Guide to pigeons and doves of the UK

Five species of pigeon and dove can be found in the UK countryside – three common, two extremely rare. Find out more with our quick-fire guide

Dove on a tree branch in forest
Published: February 22nd, 2022 at 6:09 am

There are five species of pigeon and dove in the UK countryside. Three of them are common – wood pigeon, collared dove and stock dove – and two are extremely rare – turtle dove and rock dove.

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There is no major difference between these five species, all of which share many of the same features. Their heads are small, their bills slim, and their bodies are round. They have short, scaly legs and are well-known for their cooing calls.

Which species of pigeon live in the city?

Pigeons are one of the most common species of bird found in our towns and cities. These 'feral' pigeons descended from domestic pigeons. which were originally bred from wild – and now rare – rock doves. 

Which family do doves and pigeons belong to?

Pigeons and doves belong to the bird family Columbidae. There are 344 species of Columbidae in the world, split into 50 genera. Five of these species reside in the UK.

What do doves and pigeons eat?

Doves and pigeons primarily feed on fruits, berries, seeds and plants. They may also eat insects and spiders.


Types of pigeons and doves in the UK

Turtle dove 

Bird on branch
Summer is the time to listen for the gentle purr of the turtle dove/Credit: CreativeNature_nl, Getty

Our smallest dove with gorgeous tortoiseshell feathering on back and wings. Purring call is a delight. A migrant, it arrives on farmland in late spring but UK population has dropped by 95% since 1970. 

Find out more about turtle doves.


Collared dove 

Bird on branch
Collared doves are usually seen on their own or in pairs/Credit: Mike Lane, Getty

A small dove of farms, parks, gardens and woods, it was first recorded in the UK in the 1950s but is now very common. Pale, pinkish grey, with a black neck stripe; its call resembles “un-i-ted, un-i-ted”.

Find out more about collared doves.


Wood pigeon

Bird on branch
According to the RSPB, there are 5,400,000 breeding pairs of wood pigeon in the UK/Credit: Robert Bannister, Alamy

Our largest pigeon with a mauve chest, white nape and white wing patches that help identify the bird in flight. Very common in gardens, parks, woods and farmland. Call has been described as “take two cows Taffy”. 

Find out more about wood pigeons.


Rock dove 

Bird on rock
The rock dove is the rare, wild ancestor of the commonly occurring 'feral' city pigeon/Credit: Liam Bunce, Alamy

The wild ancestor of domestic pigeons and thus the ‘town pigeon’. Pure rock doves are rare and, in the British Isles, now found only on the coasts of north and west Scotland and Ireland where they nest on cliffs.

Find out more about rock pigeons.


Stock dove

Bird on branch
Stock doves weigh between 290–330g/Credit: Steve Round,

A bird of wooded farmland with similar plumage to the wild rock dove but with a jet-black eye. It lacks the wood pigeon’s white feathers. Has a delicious insistent brooding call. Numbers have declined recently.

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Find out more about stock doves.

Authors

Fergus CollinsEditor, BBC Countryfile Magazine
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