Group of pigeons | Why are they in groups & How do they behave in groups

It is not uncommon to spot a group of birds flying in the sky. You may have noticed that they fly in a specific pattern and in a fixed, specific way and these patterns are quite beautiful to look at. As a child, I would observe the city pigeons and often wonder about how these birds could make and maintain these formations even in flight.

Intro Video - Backtobirds
Intro Video - Backtobirds

Not long after, I was able to find out a lot more about the dynamics of pigeon groups and how they live and fly in sync. Read on to find out more! 

What is a group of pigeons called? 

Like many other birds, pigeons also like to live in a group. The group of pigeons is called flocks. In the urban areas, pigeons often take shelter in large, open, and barren rooftops, bridges, warehouses, window ledges, and such places that have enough space for the whole flock to stay in close proximity.  

Understanding the pigeon flock 

Like many bird groups, pigeons’ groups also show certain specific behavior and patterns. A pigeon’s flock always consists of an equal number of male and female pigeons. A major reason for it is that pigeons reproduce throughout their life.  

In the flock, the male courts the chosen female by pursuing her on the ground. He often circles her by keeping his tail spread and neck feathers inflated. Throughout the courting period, the male pigeon would keep bowing and cooing.  

Another point to note is that if a partner dies, the surviving pigeon will try to find another mate and continue the behavior.  

Nurturing baby pigeons in the flock 

Another interesting behavior is the way pigeons take care of young ones. Both parents take turns incubating the clutch of eggs for 16-19 days. Once the eggs hatch, the squabs or baby pigeons are fed by both parents, a crop secretion called ‘pigeon milk.’ 

The flock plays a major role in training and grooming the baby pigeons or squabs. The older well-trained birds play a pivotal role in helping the young pigeon learn and master their own flight. They also learn to get a good view of the local terrain and ultimately become strong and confident fliers.  

Coordinated behavior in pigeon flocks  

There are varied reasons and behavior patterns that are seen in a flock. A few reasons pigeon flock are: 

  • Sleeping– Even in urban environments, pigeons need to protect themselves from their natural predators like owls and falcons. Pigeon sleeping in the roost or flocks is deemed as safer and more secure. Hence, they sleep in flocks.  
  • Feeding- A major behavior seen in pigeon flock is the search for food. Not all pigeons fly out to search for food. Instead, scout birds fly out and try to discover foraging opportunities in different areas of the cities. If a pigeon finds food, it alerts others to come to that place to find food. Likewise, if a pigeon failed to find food on a particular day, it will fly with the pigeon who was successful and lead them to an area where they found food.  
  • Socializing- Unlike many birds, pigeons are an emotional and social bird. They like interacting and living in groups. Living in flocks is a primary way to fulfill their socializing needs.  
  • Flying – Another major reason group of pigeons stay together is to fly in fixed patterns and movements. Pigeons mostly fly in circles and have a great sense of smell. This movement allows them to sense the earth’s magnetic field as well as smell the various odors present in the air. It helps them to identify the smell that is closest to their home. The smell helps them navigate back to home. 

It also helps them better search for food as well as conserve energy while flying.  Another reason for flying in groups is to discourage raptors like hawks, crows, etc. Even if a single pigeon senses danger, it is able to transmit it to all the other members. They would often change directions within seconds and fly in circles till the danger passes away. 

  • Leaders– Another interesting thing to note is that pigeons’ flocks have several leaders at any given time in flight. They are highly coordinated and follow a clear hierarchical structure in their decision-making process. However, even the lower members assume leadership positions sometimes depending on the situation.  

Dynamics of a pigeon flock in flight

Have you ever wondered how pigeons know where to go and how so many birds seem to change direction so quickly? Researchers have found that each pigeon flock has a leader at all times. All other birds follow this leader without hesitation. 

A pecking order exists which determines the leader. Higher-ranking birds have more influence over how the flock moves. However, leaders change often, sometimes even multiple times within the same flight. These leaders can even be lower-ranking pigeons at times. 

Another interesting fact is that lower-ranking birds mostly fly behind and to the right of the leading pigeon. This may relate to the brain structure of these birds. The right side of the brain manages social recognition and hence whatever these pigeons see with their left eye will be processed by the right brain and elicit a quick response.

Wrapping up  

As evident, pigeons exhibit diverse and specific behavior patterns in groups called flocks. It proves advantageous and beneficial to them in various aspects of their life.

These flocks in everything from searching for food together as well as mating and raising the young. Specific roles in flight patterns mean that pigeons can control the flock well in flight and this can help them survive even a potentially dangerous situation.

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