Changes to reporting Rock Pigeon

By Team eBird 22 Jan 2014

Rock Pigeon will disappear from most checklists this week, and Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) will remain as the option to use in most of the world. 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 for a final time this week (22 Jan 2014) 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).

From this point forth, most area checklists will 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. Please do not enter “Rock Pigeon” except in rare cases where both Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) and Rock Pigeon (Wild type) co-occur and can be difficult to distinguish. In these instances, all three forms will be available on the data entry checklists.

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)”:

  • North America
  • South America
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • Northern, East, and Southeast Asia (roughly all areas north of southern Kazakhstan and east of India)
  • northern Europe, except Scotland and Ireland

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:

  • Scotland, Ireland, and Faroes – coastal sea cliffs only
  • southern Europe, especially mountains such as the Pyrenees, Alps, Dinaric Alps, Balkans, and Caucasus. The European range spans from Portugal and Spain across the Alps, Italy, the Mediterranean coast and inland mountains east to Turkey and around the shores of the Black Sea; north of there, most birds are Feral Pigeons. Mullarney et al. (1999. Birds of Europe) provides a good range map for wild type Rock Pigeon (which is known as Rock Dove in that guide).
  • Mountainous areas of northern Africa; range continuous on coasts and mountain ranges of northern Africa, but somewhat patchy in west Africa, including mountains and hills from e. Senegal to northern Benin and east to coastal Sudan and northern Eritrea. Sinclair and Ryan (2003. Birds of Africa south of the Sahara) and Borrow and Demey (2001. Birds of Western Africa) have good range maps for the species.
  • Middle East, where widespread in most non-urban mountainous areas
  • Central Asia, roughly from southern Kazakhstan south through western China to the western Himalayas of India
  • Peninsular India and Sri Lanka, possibly east to northern Myanmar

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:

  • North America
  • South America
  • Asia, anywhere north and east of a line from India to Kazakhstan
  • Australia and New Zealand
  •  Most Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean islands
  • most countries in northern Europe (see European range of wild type Rock Pigeon above)