Las Palomas Blancas

By Howard Platt from the December 2009 Edition

Birdwatchers will know that the rock pigeon, Columba livia, may have been the first animal domesticated by man, many thousands of years ago in the Middle East. Domestication, probably as a food source, was followed by breeding and the development of birds in many colours and fancy varieties. Today many people keep them as pets, or as homing or carrier pigeons. Perhaps the best known story of them as homing birds is in human mythology where the dove was the first animal to return to the ark, with an olive branch, signaling the end of the great flood.

Their natural resident range is western and southern Europe, North Africa and southern Asia. They are not natural to the Americas but were brought here about 400 years ago. Since then they have spread across the continents and are now common not only in the cities and urban parks but also the beach towns which the other “snowbirds” enjoy.


The basic rock pigeon has a dark bluish-grey head and neck and pale gray wings with two black bars. The bill is black and has a very obvious white base (cere). Feathers around the neck can be fluffed up as a gorge, and when they catch the light they glitter in greens and reddish-purples. However the pigeons we see today have either escaped or been released from captivity. Reflecting centuries of breeding they appear in a wide range of colours from the basic to the all white.

One of the great puzzles about feral pigeons is why, generations after returning to the wild, they have not all reverted to the wild coloration. The persistence of the domesticated traits is very unusual among animals that become feral, and is the topic of a study by Cornell University.

You can learn more about the study, and even participate, here: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pigeonwatch

If you are less energetic, perhaps you will just enjoy seeing them billing and cooing along the Manzanillo waterfront, as shown here and throw them a tiny part of your lunch from your favorite outdoor eating establishment.

These are turbulent times for birds as well as for us. Perhaps we can all learn to share a little better. In the words of the popular song, let us hope that ‘no one can take our freedom away’.

Peace, harmony, prosperity, faith, fidelity, everlasting tranquility and eternal love. These are some of the sentiments that have been attributed to white doves – palomas blancas. This one is enjoying a bath in a fountain on the Manzanillo waterfront but they are in the heart of every great city in the world and it would be nice to think that the sentiments are also alive in the hearts of those cities.

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