Pigeons are usually kept as show birds or for sport or racing. They have a long history of being beneficial to mankind, and have probably been domesticated for longer than any other animal.
The sport of pigeon racing grew out of the ability of pigeons to find their way home across land and water they had never seen before.
There is no real difference between pigeons and doves – the larger kinds are called pigeons and the smaller, doves. The incredible array of varieties has been produced from one common ancestor.
Pigeons tend to fly and perch up high, while doves spend more time on the ground. Aviaries, however, should be situated in a position which affords a good, high, all-round view. Sudden movements or noise should be avoided as pigeons and doves panic easily and can injure themselves.
Males and females look very much alike. Often the only way to sex the birds is to see the males displaying. This entails the male pursuing the female, inflating his neck or chest to show off distinctive markings, and fanning the tail to reveal bold patterns.
Once a true pair is established, nesting is assured. The nests are little more than a flimsy platform of twigs, even if better materials are provided. It is therefore best to assist by providing a piece of wire netting, or a wicker or wooden tray. Suitable trays for doves are 235 square centimeters with a lip of 3 centimeters, and for pigeons 524 square centimeters with a lip of 5 centimeters.
The majority of doves lay two white eggs that are incubated by both parents for twelve to eighteen days. During the first few days, the sole food fed to the squabs (the young) is a nutritious curd-like substance known as pigeon’s milk, which both sexes produce in the crop. The young develop rapidly and the lighter varieties can fly within two weeks.
Most of the more common pigeons and doves eat seed and grain. There are others that eat different types of food and some that feed exclusively on fruit, but the seed and grain eaters are most common. A normal pigeon mix available from feed suppliers is adequate. Pigeons and doves also eat oats, wheat, corn and peas. All will eat linseed, rape and niger. Some will eat white ant larvae, wood lice, worms and cleaned maggots. All need some sort of grit.