The pigeon family

Earlier this week we talked about the role museums play in bringing back extinct species, like the Passenger Pigeon. But how did the Passenger Pigeon get to be part of the pigeon family?

The word pigeon tends to evoke a vision of a motley looking gray-brown plump bird bobbing around a feeder. And while some pigeons can be rather dull looking by exploring the tetrapod collection’s trays of Columbidae, the family for pigeons, you will see that some species are brightly colored, some are big or small, and some have unique feather patterns. Look for why all these different species are put in the same family. Keep an eye out for bill size and shape, which helps define the diet of a species. Examine the overall body shape of the pigeons, this can inform you how they nest, fly or move on the ground. Last, inspect the feet of the pigeons, feet can inform you about diet and movement of a species.

Comment below if you find other characteristics that these specimens have in common and allow us to place them in the same family!

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About the author: Stephanie Malinich is the collection manager of the OSU tetrapods at the Museum of Biological Diversity.

3 thoughts on “The pigeon family

  1. I’ll start off: the bill shape and size (relative to the size of the bird) is similar in all of these specimens. Size is “medium” or even slightly small as compared to other birds; for the size of the bird, the bill looks a bit delicate. The has a bit of a hump midway down the upper mandible, unlike the bill of, say, a robin which is mostly straight. The bill ends in a small hook on the upper mandible. All this suggests that the bird feeds on relatively soft plants (the bill is not stout enough to suggest carnivorous habits), likely fruits, that may be pierced or torn using the hook on the bill.

  2. Bill, thank you for sharing your observations. Isn’t it fun to study bird skins in detail and amazing what morphology can tell us about a bird’s habits!

  3. Pigeons have a very prominent cere at the base of the bill, this is usually obvious as paired swollen fleshy bumps above and behind the nostrils. They often have square tails and slightly rounded wingtips. Most are strong fast fliers. The head is relatively small compared to the large body. While it doesn’t show in the photos the diet of most species consists primarily of seeds and/or fruits. Another important feature of pigeons that isn’t visible from the outside, is that they feed their young with regurgitated “milk” produced from specialized tissue in the crop. The group is very ancient and the family is placed in its own order (Columbidae, Columiformes).

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