1902 Encyclopedia > Pigeon


literally a nestling-bird that pipes or cries out, a " Piper "—the very name now in use among Pigeon-fanciers. The word Pigeon, doubtless of Norman introduction as a polite term, seems to bear much the same relation to Dove, the word of Anglo-Saxon origin, that mutton has to sheep, beef to ox, veal to calf, and pork to bacon; but, as before stated (DOVE, vol. vii. p. 379), no sharp distinction can be drawn between the two, and the collective members of the group Columbx are by ornitho-logists ordinarily called Pigeons. Perhaps the best known species to which the latter name is exclusively given in common speech is the Wild Pigeon or Passenger-Pigeon of North America, Ectopistes migratorius, which is still plentiful in many parts of Canada and the United States, though no longer appearing in the countless numbers that it did of old, when a flock seen by Wilson was estimated to consist of more than 2230 millions. The often-quoted descriptions given by him and Audubon of Pigeon-haunts in the then " back woods " of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana need not here be reproduced. That of the latter was declared by Waterton to be a gross exaggeration if not an entire fabrication; but the critic would certainly have changed his tone had he known that, some hundred and fifty years earlier, Passenger-Pigeons so swarmed and ravaged the colonists' crops near Montreal that a bishop of his own church was constrained to exorcise them with holy water, as if they had been demons. The rapid and sustained flight of these Pigeons is also as well-established as their former overwhelming abundance—birds having been killed in the State of New York whose crops con-tained undigested grains of rice that must have been not long before plucked and swallowed in South Carolina or Georgia. The Passenger-Pigeon is about the size of a common Turtle-Dove, but with a long, wedge-shaped tail. The male is of a dark slate-colour above, and purplish-bay beneath, the sides of the neck being enlivened by gleaming violet, green, and gold. The female is drab-coloured above and dull white beneath, with only a slight trace of the brilliant neck-markings.

Among the multitudinous forms of Pigeons very few can here be noticed. A species which seems worthy of attention as being one that might possibly repay the trouble of domestication, if any enterprising person would give it the chance, is the Wonga-wonga or White-fleshed Pigeon of Australia, Leucosarcia picata, a bird larger than the Ring-Dove, of a slaty-blue colour above and white beneath, streaked on the flanks with black. It is known to breed, though not very freely, in captivity, and is said to be excellent for the table. As regards flavour, however, those who have been so fortunate as to eat them declare that the Fruit-Pigeons of the genus Treron (or Vinago of some authors) and its allies surpass all birds. These inhabit tropical Africa, India, and especially the Malay Archipelago; but the probability of domesticating any of them is very remote. Hardly less esteemed are the Pigeons of the genus Ptilopus and its kindred forms, which have their headquarters in the Pacific Islands, though some occur far to the westward, and also in Australia. Among them are found the most exquisitely-coloured of the whole Family. There may be mentioned the strange Nicobar Pigeon, Calcenas, an inhabitant of the Indian Archipelago, not less remarkable for the long lustrous hackles with which its neck is clothed than for the struc-ture of its gizzard, which has been described by Prof. Flower (Proc. Zool. Society, 1860, p. 330), though this peculiarity is matched or even surpassed by that of the same organ in the Phsenorrhina goliaih of New Caledonia (Rev. de Zoologie, 1862, p. 138) and in the Carpophaga latrans of Fiji. In this last the surface of the epithelial lining is beset by horny conical processes, adapted, it is believed, for crushing the very hard fruits of Onocarpus oitiensis on which the bird feeds (Proc. Zool. Society, 1878, p. 102). The modern giants of the group, consisting of about half a dozen species of the genus Goura and known as Crowned-Pigeons, belong to New Guinea and the neighbour-ing islands, but want of space forbids further notice of their characteristics, of which the most conspicuous are their large size and the reticulated instead of scutellated cover-ing of their " tarsi."

A very distinct type of Pigeon is that represented by Didunculus strigirostris, the " Manu-mea " of Samoa, still believed by some to be the next of kin to the DODO (vol. vii. p. 321), but really presenting only a superficial resemblance in the shape of its bill to that effete form, from which it differs osteologically quite as much as do other Pigeons (Phil. Transactions, 1869, p. 349). It re-mains to be seen whether the Papuan genus Otidiphaps, of which several species are now known, may not belong rather to the Didunculidx than to the true Columbidx (see ORNITHOLOGY, vol. xviii. p. 46).

At least 500 species of Pigeons have been described, and many methods of arranging them suggested. That by Garrod (Proc. Zool. Society, 1874, pp. 249-259) is one of the most recent; but, for reasons before assigned (vol. xviii. p. 40), it is not satisfactory. Temminck's great work on the group with its continuation by M. Florent-Provost, already mentioned (vol. xviii. p. 11), is of course wholly out of date, as also Selby's more modest Natural History of the Columbidse (forming vol. ix. of Jardine's Naturalist's Library). Schlegel's catalogue of the specimens contained in the museum at Leyden (Museum des Pays-Bas, livr. 10, 1873) contains much useful information, but a new monograph of the Pigeons, containing all the recent discoveries, is much wanted. (A. N.)


See further under the heading POULTRY.

It may be observed that the " Rock-Pigeons " of Anglo-Indians are SAND-GROUSE (q.v.), and the "Cape Pigeon" of sailors is a PETREL (q.v. ).

Voyages da Baron de la Hontan dans VAmerique septentrionale, ed. 2, Amsterdam, 1705, vol. i. pp. 93, 94. In the first edition, pub-lished at The Hague in 1703, the passage, less explicit in details but to the same effect, is at p. 80. The author's letter, describing the cir-cumstance, is dated May 1687.

There are several records of the occurrence in Britain of this Pigeon, but in most cases the birds noticed cannot be supposed to have found their own way hither. One, which was shot in Fife in 1825, may, however, have crossed the Atlantic unassisted by man.

The above article was written by: Prof. A. Newton.

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