Changes will be happening over the next week with how eBird users report Rock Pigeons. Most checklists will now contain Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) as an option. Since eBird is a global system it needs to be consistent throughout the world. In the Old World, where Rock Pigeon is native, most observers draw distinctions between Feral Pigeons (city pigeons, typically with non-wild plumage phenotypes) and ‘wild type’ Rock Pigeons. The latter have become quite rare in many areas, so reporting them as “Rock Pigeon (Wild type)” is of interest. In most of the world, however, Rock Pigeons are derived from captive stock and should be reported as “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)” to make this distinction. This includes all Rock Pigeons in the Americas, Australia, sub-Saharan Africa, many islands, and many other areas where Rock Pigeons are restricted to urban and agrarian areas and where Wild type Rock Pigeons do not occur.
eBird checklists will be updating this week to allow the correct options for each area. We will also be updating your records so that they reflect the proper Rock Pigeon type. For most eBirders, this means that your records will be converted to Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon).
For an interim period, areas with only Feral Pigeons will have the eBird data entry checklists changed to show Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) and Rock Pigeon. Later, we will change these to only show Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) since we want to encourage the use of Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) in areas where only that form is known.
Some instability is to be expected in eBird alerts as these changes take place.
This change is probably going to be confusing for some, so below we provide some detail on how to best report your pigeons.
A good general map for the occurrence of Wild type Rock Pigeons and Feral Pigeons can be seen on Wikipedia. Note however that lots of Feral Pigeons occur within the range of the wild type Rock Pigeons on that map. Again, note that within the following areas, all Rock Pigeons should be entered using the eBird data entry option “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)”:
In addition, almost all birds in cities and around farmlands will be Feral Pigeons. Most flocks in these areas contain pigeons of a variety of colors and patterns and this is typical for Feral Pigeons. Wild type birds are likely to be restricted to sea cliffs and mountainous areas and are likely to all look the same: clean gray on the back with two black bars on the wing, a gray tail base with a broad dark terminal band, and a limited white rump patch. Note that some Feral Pigeons match the color and pattern of wild type birds and may not be readily distinguished except by range, habitat, and behavior.
Below is some guidance on the two main groups that will be options for data entry for Rock Pigeons:
1) Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) – this is to be used for all feral populations, including those within the native range of Rock Pigeon (Wild type). City birds matching wild type, or even populations of Feral Pigeons that have returned to the wild and returned to wild type phenotypes, should not be entered as “Wild type”. Almost all records worldwide (except in known areas of wild occurrence) should be entered as “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon).” Records of Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) will count on your eBird lists and will be summarized under the overarching species, Rock Pigeon.
2) Rock Pigeon (Wild type) – this is to be used ONLY within the native range of the species for birds that match the wild type (wild phenotype). The Clements checklist has 13 wild subspecies, and these are all members of this group. In eBird this is a “form” (i.e., a taxonomic entity not used in the Clements list and not matching other eBird categories) and all records count on your eBird lists and will be summarized under the overarching species Rock Pigeon. This form should not be entered on checklists outside the native range of this species. Use it only within the native range where appearance and behavior match the wild type. Areas where wild Rock Pigeons occur include:
eBird also has a third taxon that will be used rarely:
3) Rock Pigeon – this is the overarching species. This will appear in summary data for life lists and also as a range map option (to see the two taxa above together). This may be useful as a data entry option in cases where introgression occurs (localized areas in the Old World) and such birds should be entered as Rock Pigeon with notes that the birds appear to be wild type intergrades with Feral Pigeons. There are also areas where uncertainty exists regarding whether cliff-nesting birds with wild phenotypes are a true wild population or not (this is a problem in Iceland and Turkey, and probably elsewhere as well). In these cases, the “overarching” Rock Pigeon is probably the best choice and observers should not be assigning them more specifically if it is unclear.
Again, in the Americas and other areas where they are all introduced, “Rock Pigeon” is not the correct option to eBird your Rock Pigeon sightings. In the below areas birds are all from domestic stock and hence are all “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon),” regardless of the plumage: