Wood Pigeon

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Is the Wood Pigeon right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Common Wood Pigeon; Culver

Scientific name: Columba palumbus

The basics:
The Wood Pigeon is a large pigeon with a broad range from Western Europe to the Mediterranean and North Africa, and to Asia Minor. In Western Europe it is resident, but elsewhere in its range it is a migrant. Remember these are wild birds that have only been partially domesticated, at best. But if you are looking for a new game bird, they are fairly low maintenance and can be used to supplement your income.

The Wood Pigeon is one of the few birds to thrive after the arrival of modern farming methods, and it is now classed as Britain's commonest bird. Because of its destructive behaviour in cereal crops, it is classed as a pest. Several subspecies are recognized and, though it has not been domesticated like the Rock Pigeon, its meat (particularly the breasts) are sought after as game meat. As a result there have been moves since the 1980s to rear the Wood Pigeon as a game bird. This has been sponsored in some part by specialized supermarkets (Waitrose in the UK being at the forefront) and upmarket restaurants.

The Wood Pigeon looks very similar to its relative, the Rock Pigeon and they are often mistaken for one another. However, the Wood Pigeon is larger along with the white band around its neck and the white markings on the wings. The plumage is mainly grey, though the breast has a pinkish tinge and the neck may show green iridescence.

300 - 600 grams (10.6 - 21.2 oz.)

Average size:
38 - 44.5 centimeters (15 -17.5 in.)

3 - 4 years

Behavior / temperament:
Even when partially domesticated, they remain true to their wild nature. They are swift and active fliers and need plenty of space to fly in. If bonded with humans after being hand reared they will return home to the 'roost' until they form a pair bond with a wild pigeon. If being reared for meat they need plenty of space to fly and lots of perches and nesting spaces in trees.

It was work done at the University of Reading, England, during the early 1980s that led to the possibility of rearing wood pigeons as game animals. Though people have been raising wood pigeons as 'rescue' birds for many years — and they imprint on humans when reared as young chicks. The Reading team developed a feed that would work on young chicks so that they could be taken from wild nests and introduced to intensive rearing. They are still a wild species and typically the eggs are collected and incubated indoors. After hatching the chicks (squabs) are fed on a diet of raw egg with supplements until they were 28 days old and ready to fledge. They were then introduced to outdoor aviaries with plenty of perches and tree-based nesting sites. These part-domesticated pigeons where then allowed to form natural breeding pairs (pigeons pair-bond for life) and the eggs were removed when laid to be hand reared.

It must be remembered that the Wood Pigeon is a wild bird and though they will imprint on humans if hand-reared when less than 10 days old. After this time their fear of humans cannot be overcome. If reared as game birds they need large aviaries and plenty of space to perch and to fly. They are then released when it is shooting season.

Like many pigeons, wild wood pigeons will form pair bonds with tame pigeons, as anyone with a large dovecote knows. As a result they have always been part of the pigeon rearing scene, but as accidental additions rather than as purposefully farmed. It is the new demand for wild pigeon meat that is driving new intensive rearing practices, though this remains a small-scale effort, mainly in England and France.

The diet of the wild Wood Pigeon is mostly vegetable in nature and they particularly enjoy the leaves of members of the cruciferae (cabbage) and aster families. As a result they can be destructive in gardens and on farmland. They also eat grains and huge flocks can descend on wheat and barley crops. They snip of the ears and eat the grins until their crops are engorged. They therefore cause more damage to crops than they actually eat. They will also supplement their diets with pine nuts, fruit and berries. In addition they also eat insect larvae, insects and small earthworms.

Written by Dyfed Lloyd Evans

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