Doves are stout-bodied birds with short necks, and short slender bills that in some species feature fleshy ceres. They primarily feed on seeds, fruits, and plants. Doves are likely the most common birds in the world; the family occurs worldwide, but the greatest variety is in the Indomalaya and Australasia ecozones.
The species most commonly referred to as “pigeon” is the species known by scientists as the rock dove, one subspecies of which, the domestic pigeon, is common in many cities as the feral pigeon.
Pigeon is a French word that derives from the Latin pipio, for a “peeping” chick, while dove is a Germanic word that refers to the bird’s diving flight.
Doves and pigeons build relatively flimsy nests, often using sticks and other debris, which may be placed on trees, ledges, or the ground, depending on species. They lay one or two eggs at a time, and both parents care for the young, which leave the nest after 7–28 days.
Unlike most birds, both sexes of doves and pigeons produce “crop milk” to feed to their young, secreted by a sloughing of fluid-filled cells from the lining of the crop. Young doves and pigeons are called “squabs”.
- In the Hebrew Bible, doves or young pigeons are acceptable burnt offerings for those who cannot afford a more expensive animal. In Genesis, Noah sends a dove out of the ark, but it came back to him because the floodwaters had not receded. Seven days later, he sent it again and it came back with an olive branch in her mouth, indicating the waters had receded enough for an olive tree to grow. In Hebrew, Jonah means dove. The “sign of Jonas” is related to the “sign of the dove”.
- Jesus’s parents sacrificed doves on his behalf after his circumcision. Later, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism like a dove, and subsequently the “peace dove” became a common Christian symbol of the Holy Spirit.