DOVE (Dutch duyve, Dan. due, Ice. dufa, Ger. Taube), a name most commonly applied by ornithologists to the smaller members of the group of birds usually called pigeons (Columbae); but no sharp distinction can be drawn between pigeons and doves, and in general literature the two words are used almost indifferently, while no one species can be pointed out to which the word dove, taken alone, seems to be absolutely proper. The largest of the group to which the name is applicable is perhaps the ring-dove, or wood-pigeon, also called in many parts of Britain cushat and queest (Columba palumbus, Linn.), a very common bird throughout the British Islands and most parts of Europe. It associates in winter in large flocks, the numbers of which (owing partly to the destruction of predaceous animals, but still more to the modern system of agriculture, and the growth of plantations in many districts that were before treeless) have increased enormously. In former days, when the breadth of land in Britain under green crops was comparatively small, these birds found little food in the dead season, and this scarcity was a natural check on their superabundance. But since the extended cultivation of turnips and plants of similar use the case is altered, and perhaps at no time of the year has provender become more plentiful than in winter. The ring-dove may be easily distinguished from other European species by its larger size, and especially by the white spot on either side of its neck, forming a nearly continuous “ring,” whence the bird takes its name, and the large white patches in its wings, which are very conspicuous in flight. It breeds several times in the year, making for its nest a slight platform of sticks on the horizontal bough of a tree, and laying therein two eggs—which, as in all the Columbae, are white. It is semi-domestic in the London parks.

The stock-dove (C. aenas of most authors) is a smaller species, with many of the habits of the former, but breeding by preference in the stocks of hollow trees or in rabbit-holes. It is darker in colour than the ring-dove, without any white on its neck or wings, and is much less common and more locally distributed.

The rock-dove (C. livia, Temm.) much resembles the stock-dove, but is of a lighter colour, with two black bars on its wings, and a white rump. In its wild state it haunts most of the rocky parts of the coast of Europe, from the Faeroes to the Cyclades, and, seldom going inland, is comparatively rare. Yet, as it is without contradiction the parent-stem of all British domestic pigeons, its numbers must far exceed those of both the former put together. In Egypt and various parts of Asia it is represented by what Charles Darwin has called “wild races,” which are commonly accounted good “species” (C. schimperi, C. affinis, C. intermedia, C. leuconota, and so forth), though they differ from one another far less than do nearly all the domestic forms, of which more than 150 kinds that “breed true,” and have been separately named, are known to exist. Very many of these, if found wild, would have unquestionably been ranked by the best ornithologists as distinct “species” and several of them would as undoubtedly have been placed in different genera. These various breeds are classified by Darwin[1] in four groups as follows:—

Group I., composed of a single Race, that of the “Pouters,” having the gullet of great size, barely separated from the crop, and often inflated, the body and legs elongated, and a moderate bill. The most strongly marked sub-race, the Improved English Pouter, is considered to be the most distinct of all domesticated pigeons.

Group II. includes three Races:—(1) “Carriers,” with a long pointed bill, the eyes surrounded by much bare skin, and the neck and body much elongated; (2) “Runts,” with a long, massive bill, and the body of great size; and (3) “Barbs,” with a short, broad bill, much bare skin round the eyes, and the skin over the nostrils swollen. Of the first four and of the second five sub-races are distinguished.

Group III. is confessedly artificial, and to it are assigned five Races:—(1) “Fan-tails,” remarkable for the extraordinary development of their tails, which may consist of as many as forty-two rectrices in place of the ordinary twelve; (2) “Turbits” and “Owls,” with the feathers of the throat diverging, and a short thick bill; (3) “Tumblers,” possessing the marvellous habit of tumbling backwards during flight, or, in some breeds, even on the ground, and having a short, conical bill; (4) “Frill-backs,” in which the feathers are reversed; and (5) “Jacobins,” with the feathers of the neck forming a hood, and the wings and tail long.

Group IV. greatly resembles the normal form, and comprises two Races:—(1) “Trumpeters,” with a tuft of feathers at the base of the neck curling forward, the face much feathered, and a very peculiar voice, and (2) Pigeons scarcely differing in structure from the wild stock.

Besides these some three or four other little-known breeds exist, and the whole number of breeds and sub-breeds almost defies computation. The difference between them is in many cases far from being superficial, for Darwin has shown that there is scarcely any part of the skeleton which is constant, and the modifications that have been effected in the proportions of the head and sternal apparatus are very remarkable. Yet the proof that all these different birds have descended from one common stock is nearly certain. Here there is no need to point out its bearing upon the theory of natural selection. The antiquity of some of these breeds is not the least interesting part of the subject, nor is the use to which one at least of them has long been applied. The dove from the earliest period in history has been associated with the idea of a messenger (Genesis viii. 8-12), and the employment of pigeons in that capacity, developed successively by Greeks, Romans, Mussulmans and Christians, has come down to modern times.

The various foreign species, if not truly belonging to the genus Columba, are barely separable therefrom. Of these examples may be found in the Indian, Ethiopian and Neotropical regions. Innumerable other forms entitled to the name of “dove” are to be found in almost every part of the world, and nowhere more abundantly than in the Australian Region. A. R. Wallace (Ibis, 1865, pp. 365-400) considers that they attain their maximum development in the Papuan Subregion, where, though the land area is less than one-sixth that of Europe, more than a quarter of all the species (some 300 in number) known to exist are found—owing, he suggests, to the absence of forest-haunting and fruit-eating mammals, which are in most cases destructive to eggs also.

To a small group of birds the name dove is, however, especially applicable in common parlance. This is the group containing the turtle-doves—the time-honoured emblem of tenderness and conjugal love. The common turtle-dove of Europe (Turtur auritus) is one of those species which are gradually extending their area. In England, in the 18th century, it seems to have been chiefly, if not solely, known in the southern and western counties. Though in the character of a straggler only, it now reaches the extreme north of Scotland, and is perhaps nowhere more abundant than in many of the midland and eastern counties of England. On the continent of Europe the same thing has been observed, though indeed not so definitely; and this species has appeared as a casual visitor within the Arctic Circle. Its graceful form and the delicate harmony of its modest colouring are proverbial. The species is migratory, reaching Europe late in April and retiring in September. Another species, and one perhaps better known from being commonly kept in confinement, is that called by many the collared or Barbary dove (T. risorius)—the second English name probably indicating that it was by way of the Barbary coast that it was brought to England. This is distinguished by its cream-coloured plumage and black necklace.  (A. N.) 

  1. The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (London, 1868), vol. i. pp. 131-224.

ROCK DOVE OR BLUE ROCK PIGEON, Columba livia. STOCK DOVE, Columba oenas.
Ectopistes migratorius.
Columba palumbus.
(After the coloured drawings by Mme. Knip (Pauline de Courcelles), painter to the Empress Marie Louise, in Les Pigeons.
Text by C. J. Themminck, Paris, 1811.)

NICOBAR PIGEON, Caloenas nicobarica.
(After Mme. Knip, as above.)
CROWNED PIGEON, Goura coronata
(After Mme. Knip, as above.)
Photographs of two typical pedigree Homing or Racing Pigeons, colours black and blue chequer, bred and shown by
Frederick Romer, Esq., prize-winners in races from France to England.
By permission of the proprietors of the Racing Pigeon.