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  • Leopold Huber

The History of the Domestic Pigeon

Pigeons (also known as Columbidae) are one of the most common birds in the world. You can't walk through London for more than five minutes before seeing one. They can be found on every continent except for Antarctica. In this article I will examine the history of these birds and their uses throughout history.


Origins and early use

The domestic pigeon (or Columba livia domestica) was confirmed to be domesticated in Mesopotamia and Egypt around 5,000 years ago, though archeological evidence suggests that pigeons were first tamed 10,000 years ago.

They were first used as a food source for humans or other animals. In some cultures, such as in Ancient Egypt, pigeons were holy animals which were revered or used as mass sacrifices. The pigeon being labelled as a holy animal was often due to the behavior and lifestyle of the pigeon and how it was like humans. Pigeons were monogamous, intelligent and peaceful but fierce protectors of their home and young.

Several thousand years later, people started to utilize a pigeon's innate sense of direction. They bred hardy, fast and robust birds that could traverse long distances and started using them as messengers. The first examples of this can be found in ancient Phoenicia.



Pigeon Fancy

For the next few hundred years, things largely stayed the same until a phenomenon known as “pigeon fancy” came along. Pigeon fancy was the breeding and keeping of pigeons not for their utilitarian purposes such as meat, materials and roles as messengers but also for their position as a showbird. First documented in the 16th century, pigeons were bred for their looks for recreational purposes or to gain prestige. This was due to the fact that a pigeon's appearance was highly malleable. A noteworthy pigeon fancier was the Mughal ruler, Akbar the Great, who possessed a flock of around 10,000 birds.

Pigeon fancies really took off in the 18th century, where show pigeons became popular in the social circles of the higher and middle classes. Public shows and attractions starring unusual birds were performed and competitions were held. By the beginning of the 19th century, pigeon keeping was common amongst the lowers class too, who kept their coops and cages on rooftops and windowsills.

Pigeon fancy is still a competitive field today with 30,000 shows being hosted in the UK and USA alone this year.


Pigeon Races

In addition to pigeon fancies, pigeon races also became popular. These appeared due to the pigeon's high stamina and hardiness, which allows them to stay in the air for a long time. In addition, the bird’s homing sense allows them to reliably navigate large distances.

The first pigeon clubs first sprang up in the USA and the UK around 200 years ago and official races were held 150 years ago.















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