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(Columbidae), a family of birds of the order of Columbiformes. Pigeons are usually of a moderate size; only crowned pigeons are large (with a body length up to 80 cm). Pigeons vary in color and fly easily and fast. There are 255 species found widely in temperate and tropical regions throughout the world. They are most varied and numerous in Southeast Asia, Australia, and the islands adjoining. There are four species in the USSR: pigeons (Columba), green pigeons (Sphenurus), doves (Streptopelia), and short-tailed doves (Oenopopelia). Tropical species are permanent, and those in the temperate zone and the northern limits of distribution are migratory. Pigeons are diurnal and are mainly wood dwellers, but they sometimes live on the ground. They usually inhabit deciduous trees, and more rarely coniferous trees, open spaces, mountains, and inhabited areas. They build their nests in trees and bushes, in cavities, on cliffs, in buildings, and sometimes on the ground. They are monogamous and mate for life. There are two clutches annually, and in rare instances four or five; there are usually two eggs, but sometimes only one in the nest, and the incubation period ranges from 14 to 30 days. The young leave the nest within 14 to 25 days. Aside from the nesting period, pigeons live in flocks. In the first days the parents feed the young with “bird’s milk,” a secretion of the epithelia of the craw partition. Pigeons feed mainly on various seeds, although some species eat fruits. They need water to drink and often fly great distances for it. Pigeon-meat has a good flavor, but it is not commercially important. They are tame. All present-day breeds of domestic pigeons originated with the rock pigeon. Large numbers of passenger pigeons lived in North America in the 19th century, but they were exterminated by irrational hunting and destruction of their nesting grounds. The last specimen was killed in the early 20th century.


Domestic pigeons. There are about 150 breeds of domestic pigeons, which are divided into three groups: carrier, exhibition, and meat. Carrier pigeons have been developed by many years of selective breeding for their ability to orient themselves. These pigeons have no practical importance at present and are raised only for sport. Their flying speed is about 60 km per hour (hr), and they have a range of 100–150 km in one direction. The maximum range is 1,000 km. Exhibition pigeons are valued for their unique plumage and varying coloration (such as pouters, Capuchins, and fantails) or their unusual flight (tumblers, gulls). All of these breeds are only raised for hobby. Meat pigeons such as Carneaux, Kings, and Mondrains are raised for slaughter. They are large, up to 900 g, and are distinguished by prolificacy and fast maturation. A pair of meat pigeons may have as many as 14 young, each of which may weigh 600–700 g at the age of one month. Twenty-five-day pigeons are best for fattening. They are fed for ten to 15 days. The meat of young pigeons is white, tender, and fine-fibered. The meat composition is 12.8 percent protein, 14.5 percent fat, 1.2 percent minerals, and 62.5 percent water. Pigeons are slaughtered in the same way as chickens. The dressed carcass is quickly cooled and packed in shallow boxes lined with paper.

Pigeons should be kept in dry, light spaces without drafts. The front of a pigeon loft should be 2–3 m high; the rear can be somewhat lower. Structures that are too high make it difficult to catch the pigeons. Windows should face south and be eight to ten times smaller than the floor area. Pigeon lofts are divided into sections: on the north side there should be a passage 1 m in width. There should be no less than 0.5 sq m floor space for each pair of pigeons, as reproduction decreases with crowding. Every section should contain ten to 15 pairs. A fly pen enclosed with screening should be built in front of the loft. The structure should be supplied with perches made of planks 3–4 cm thick, calculating 20 cm per bird, with nests, feed troughs, and watering troughs. The nests are sometimes constructed in several tiers. Every nest is divided into two parts, so that the female pigeon can be laying eggs while there are still young pigeons in the other part. Pigeons bathe; the bath should be made in the fly pen, so that dampness will not be brought into the loft. The loft, nests, and equipment should be periodically cleaned, washed, and disinfected. The temperature should be maintained at least 5° C.

Grain is the basic feed for pigeons, and a mixture is recommended for the best effect, such as 40 percent wheat or corn, 40 percent millet or barley, and 20 percent beans or peas. The daily ration should be figured at 50 g of mix per head. Pigeons also need green fodder and mineral supplements (a mix of crushed brick and old plaster, moistened with salted water). They are fed in the morning and the evening, and when eggs are being laid, also during the day. Pigeons should not be fed whole oats or rye or spoiled grain.

The mating of pigeons begins at five months of age. Meat pigeons are able to lay three or four clutches of eggs annually, and with supplementary lighting as many as seven. With every clutch the pigeon female lays two eggs and sits on them, alternating with the male, for 18 days. The hatched pigeons are blind, barely covered with fuzz, and not very mobile. In the first five or six days the parents feed them with a mush from their craw; later they eat grain as well. At the age of four or five weeks, they go entirely on grain and green feed. At 30–35 days the young pigeons are able to fly and get their own food. At this time they begin molting.


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As used in military radio communications, it means the course and the distance to the base or destination, as in “your pigeons to base are 265 degrees (at) 100 miles.”