Wood pigeons and man

Top image courtesy of Jozefsu  CC- BY- SA  4.0 license      Image middle and below  below courtesy of Rohitjahnavi CC BY -SA 4.0 license.Wood pigeons are not looked upon favourably  by farmers growing arable crops. Winter growing crops, especially brassicas, may be severely depleted by these tenacious birds. Clover foliage is the main stay diet of the wood pigeon along with weed seeds. They will take grain from  spring sown crops where such sources are available. They seem content to feed  on such subjects until times of hardship. When snow covers the low  growing weeds which make brassica crops a target for their attention.

This also extends to those growing in gardens and on allotments much to the consternation of the grower. This has led to the farmer retaliating using various methods and deterrents.Many birds are shot  {they are a legal quarry} and it is not uncommon to see them for saIe where  game is sold. I have noted that the wood pigeon is becoming a regular component on the menu of pubs and restaurants  { at least locally} This is not at all surprising to me for the birds are very tasty and nutritious.

I remember in the days of my youth that wood pigeons were given to people  in the form of a broth or soups who were recovering after long illnesses. Wild game in general is nutritious for they have not been "fattened" up by antibiotics and other growth hormones. They have not preservatives added to make them fresher than is natural to do so.

Whatever your view of the wood pigeon may be, it is the intention of this article to introduce the bird to the reader as a member of the natural avian flora of the U.K.

Description of the wood pigeon 

 Of all the pigeons and doves and that occur in the U.K. wood pigeons are by far the largest. They are 38-43cm long with a wing span of 78cm and weighing 450gms. The head neck and black tipped tail are of a blue grey colour with green purples and a prominent white collar which has a purple sheen above it.

The mantle and wings are of a grey brown colouring with prominent wing patches which are especially visible during flight. The breast is purple brown but in the breeding season blushed with pink and chestnut hues, much paler on the belly. They have a pinkish bill, pink legs and pale yellow eyes that give the impression of a hard stir full of menace.

The wings in relation to the body are of a medium size, the neck strong, the bill short, the legs very short. The bird walks. Normal flight is fast and direct with a noisy clatter when flushed from the trees. The voice is a soothing a four syllable cooing. It is indeed a portly pigeon.

There are several other species of species of doves and pigeons that occur in the U.K.,that may be encountered however, the white neck and prominent white wing pastures  make the wood pigeon instantly recognizable. All other species of pigeons and doves are smaller in varying degrees.



 courtesy brizzleboi -short video




   History and habitat--- until around one hundred and fifty years the bird as its common name suggests was a bird of deciduous woodland, however, because of persecution the birds began to arrive in the relative safety of towns and villages in ever increasing numbers. Here they are safe from the gun and become quite tame. Although always wary.

The birds have been so successful, not only because of their adaptability but also because of their long breeding season which lasts from April until October, and if, the weather remains favourable there are records of these birds having occupied nests during the winter.

Surveys suggest that pigeons of towns start to breed earlier than those in the wider countryside,possibly because of the slightly higher temperatures or more likely because food is ready available.

In courtship flights the bird flies upwards at a steep angle at the top of the flight they clap their wings before gliding down with the wings barely raised, they often repeat this sequence many times. It is impressive to observe. This is the one time that the birds take to their privileged sphere of existence for the joy of it.

Birds do not take to the wing for pleasure { with the possible exception of the sky lark } but as a means of getting from one place of safety to another as quickly as possible, { or in the case of birds of prey to hunt}.

Wood pigeons are efficient performers on the wing flying with a velocity few can match and they are very skilled at manoeuvring through their dense woodland home with amazing agility., for it is this skill and reliance of speed which can be the difference in their survival or demise.



Once the pairs have bonded the task of nest building begins. The nest is usually located  in the bough of a tree, but sometimes in a shrub or as the photograph above demonstrates in the bosom of ivy. In towns they will often place the nest on a ledge of a building. They can be deceivingly flimsy looking,twigs so loosely put together that the eggs can be seen through the bottom of the nest. However, in most cases this flimsy rough platform of twigs seems well able to cope with the capricious weather and the winds.

The eggs are smooth and white and a very similar size to those of the feral pigeon and rock dove. The incubation which may take up to 17 days is shared by both parents. In common with all pigeons the male bird sits by day and the female from evening until day light is well advanced. 

When the eggs hatch the chicks, known as squabs, are naked and helpless. The adult eats vegetable matter but feeds the chicks with crop milk. In fact it is a misnomer for it is a secretion from specialized glands in the crop. Both birds are capable of producing this secretion. They regurgitate the "crop milk" to their young. The chicks survive on this alone for a week or so the secretion being more nourishing than either cow milk or human milk. More solid food is introduced as the young grow and by the time they are ready to leave the nest they are on the same diet as their parents. The young are noted for their threatening demeanour when disturbed in the nest.

Flimsy nest with two eggs.

Courtesy of Rasbak. CC BY-SA 3.0 License.

Wood pigeons roam in flocks and roost communally at night outside the breeding season. The only natural enemy of the wood pigeon {apart from man} is the rare goshawk, although large female sparrowhawks are known to attack them with varying degrees of success.

Ringing studies have shown  that half the ringing recoveries in England are found within a 10Ks of their original birth place. Only a small percentage are found more than 50Ks away from their place of origin. 

The most recent estimate for the wood pigeon population is 2,750,000 to 3,160,000 in the year 2000. The current trend is for moderate increases during the next decade or so. It appears that the wood pigeon is here to stay. 

Columba palumbus. 

Courtesy of Carlos Delado CC BY-SA 4.0 International License

Wood pigeon trivia

Longest living bird recorded---17 years.

Typical life span---three years.

The Latin name Columba is the from the Latin name for a dove.

The species name palumbus is from  Palumes meaning a ring dove, referring to the white collar. The Latin name was given to the bird in 1758.

2010 garden bird watch survey.

The Garden Bird Watch survey began in 1995 and has continued every week since then. In 1995 the Wood pigeon  was reported from 47.5% of garden reports in 2011 the figure was 82.2%, a significant increase. This figure reflects an increase across all habitats.

UK conservation status 2021.

Uk-Green list -No current concerns.

Europe-Species of least concern. 

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The Collared dove.

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