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By Greg Dunne                

April 4, 2018 (San Diego’s East County) -- Pigeons are the ultimate urban birds. At our parks, on top of our downtown skyscrapers, even at the beach we see them.

Pigeons and Doves seem to be everywhere in the County—but even though it’s ordinary to see them on a daily basis, there are some extraordinary facts about these birds that may surprise you.

The Mourning Dove is one of our most common birds in the County, with Pigeons not far behind. Pigeons almost exclusively nest on buildings and bridges. I hardly see them at all out hiking in the County. The Dove, however, can be seen in the deserts, higher mountains, on top of Cowles Mountain and, of course, like the Pigeons all over the urban areas we live in.

There are two species of Pigeons in our area. The Domestic or “Rock Pigeon” was introduced by early French and English settlers. We also have a native Pigeon called the Band-Tailed Pigeon (top photo); rarely seen and almost never in urban areas. The Band-Tailed Pigeon prefers the East County and mountain areas. It is slightly larger than its cousin the Domestic Pigeon and travels in small flocks or even solitary at times.

The Domestic Pigeon, also known as the “Rock Dove,” are in the same family “Columbidae” as Doves. They “seem” to be associated with being very messy and often the reason we get our cars washed. But besides the unpleasant poop on our cars, the Pigeon has some unique abilities, tops in the animal kingdom.

I’ve mistakenly thought over the years that the Pigeon was not the brightest in the bird kingdom, but this is not true. They are very intelligent and have been found to pass the “mirror test” – able to recognize its reflection in the mirror. Studies show that the Pigeon can also recognize all 26 letters in the alphabet. Also, in scientific studies they can differentiate between photographs of different humans and were rewarded with food for doing so. But the most impressive feat is the ability to find their way home from as many as 1,000 miles away.

There are two main theories as to how the Homing Pigeons find their way home after being transported to far distances they have never visited before. They are the “Map and Compass” theories. The map theory being reliance on the sun to guide their way back to the destination. The compass theory is how they use the earth’s magnetic field to get themselves back to their destination, and this is the theory that most scientists believe to be accurate. Scientists have found on top of a Pigeon’s beak a substantial number of particles of iron that remain aligned north like a man-made compass, they use this to guide themselves home just like we use a compass.

The bird known as the bird of peace is not necessarily a good description of its natural habits. Doves can be very aggressive and territorial to other birds. But Doves are often associated with the concept of peace and pacifism in our society. They often appear in political cartoons, or on banners and signs at events promoting peace (such as the Olympic Games, at various anti-war/anti-violence protests, etc.), and in pacifist literature. A person who is a pacifist is sometimes referred to as a dove.  Similarly, in American politics, a person who advocates the use of military resources as opposed to diplomacy can be referred to as hawk.

We have five species of Doves in San Diego County. Hardly ever seen except in our deserts is the White-Winged Dove; more commonly seen are the Eurasian Collard Dove and Spotted Dove. The smallest of the family is the Common Ground-Dove. But the most common dove in our area is the Mourning Dove. It is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds. The number of individual Mourning Doves is estimated to be approximately 475 million.

I end with a couple of corny Pigeon jokes. An old couple is on a walk, when a pigeon flies by and deposits a poopy little present on the woman's head.

"Yuck!" yells the woman. "Get some toilet paper."

"What for?" replies the man. "He must be half-a-mile away by now."

A mother pigeon and a baby pigeon were going to race together in Old Bird Season.

But baby pigeon said, "I can't make it; I'll get too tired."

His mother said, "Don't worry; I'll tie a piece of string to one of your legs and the other end to mine."

The baby started to cry.

"What's wrong?" said the mother.

"I don't want to be pigeon-toed!"