The rock pigeon (Columba livia)
The rock pigeon is a member of the Columbidae family which comprises about 300 species that live everywhere in the world apart from the Arctic and Antarctic.
Something like 10,000 years ago, the rock pigeon was one of the first birds domesticated by man and, from them, birds of all colourings and physical varieties have been bred over the years. Among the domesticated variety, the carrier pigeon in particular is most familiar, and who hasn't seen the flocks of pigeons that infest bigger cities? The rock pigeon is the progenitor of these pigeons, and many birds among the multicoloured city flocks more or less resemble the feral rock pigeons.
In many places, domesticated pigeons interbreed with the feral variety and thereby constitute a major threat to the original populations of rock pigeons, which have disappeared from many countries for this reason. One of the world's least interbred populations of rock pigeons lives in the Faroes. A few people keep domesticated pigeons, almost exclusively in Tórshavn, whereas keeping domesticated pigeons is forbidden on the island of Nólsoy. The rock pigeon is approximately 32 cm. long, has a wingspan of approximately 65 cm. and can be found in two different colourings. In the Faroes, 80% of them have blue-grey backs and wings, while about 17% have more or less spotted backs and wings (chequered). The remainder have a few white feathers or are more or less black. The reason for this is not necessarily because of interbreeding with domesticated pigeons, but could be due to the fact that they either lack pigment (albinism) or, on the contrary, have too much pigment in their feathers (melanism).
The rock pigeon is a sedentary bird and most of them stay in the same place they were hatched throughout their lives. Rock pigeons are often seen flying in small flocks of ten to twenty individuals outside the breeding season when searching for food. At night, they sleep in hollows and cracks between large rocks on steep mountain slopes, often close to the sea, where they also breed in the summer.
Formerly, corn was grown in the Faroes and rock pigeons could do great damage to a newly-sown corn field. The birds were timid and difficult to shoot, but people took their young, if they could get hold of them.
Today, the rock pigeon is a protected species. Many people keep geese, chickens and sheep and feed them outdoors throughout the winter, which provides rock pigeons with a good chance of survival, and the existing Faroese breeding population has been estimated as 1,250 pairs.
The first rock pigeons begin building fairly loosely-constructed nests of straw, roots, seaweed and feathers at the end of March. Both males and females take part in nest building and hatching eggs, although the females probably do most of the work. Nests are often built beneath big rocks, in hollows or in cracks on a rock face (puffins and rock pigeons often breed in the same areas). Some pairs breed individually while others breed together, and others again breed in colonies, as is the case on Nólsoy, where 30-40 pairs breed in a narrow cliff hollow a few metres above sea level, east of the village.
Rock pigeons lay two white eggs that they sit on for about 17 days, after which the blind, yellow-downed young hatch. The parent birds produce crop milk, a secretion produced in the lining of their crops that they feed the young on for the first few days. Subsequently, the young are fed the same food eaten by the adult birds for the next month or so, after which they can fend for themselves a few days after leaving their nests.
Rock pigeons usually have two broods during the course of a summer and the young birds themselves breed in the following summer.
A number of young pigeons die during the first winter, while those that survive will live for an average of three years. The oldest rock pigeon we know of, however, lived to be nine years old and was ring-marked on Nólsoy.
Technical DetailsIssue Date: 16.09.2009
Designer: Astrid Andreasen
Illustrator: Astrid Andreasen
Printer: LM Group Canada
Process: Offset Lithography
Colours: Full colours
Size: 36 x 42mm
Values: 14kr & 36kr