Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mediterranean cuneiform tablets indicate that pigeons were first domesticated more than 5,000 years ago. Modern pigeons occur in thousands of breeds, from the Rock Pigeon seen in city parks to fancy show birds such as the Jacobin. Pigeons are embraced by hobbyists for racing and show, and many breed variations reflect those purposes.
Pigeons, like doves, are members of the family Columbidae. The many breeds of modern pigeons are believed to have descended from a single ancestor, the rock dove or rock pigeon. Because of their long association with humans, pigeons have been bred for specific purposes. Carrier and homing pigeons have played a significant role in military operations for centuries, and more recently, show pigeons have been bred for voice, extravagant color and feathers, while racing enthusiasts breed for speed and size.
The Rock Pigeon
The ubiquitous rock pigeon inhabits city parks and most areas where humans live. Although largely undomesticated, this breed is also kept by hobbyists and used for homing. Rock pigeons can be found with several color variations, from the familiar blue-grey bird with black wing bars to red, white and black variants. Rock pigeons may also be pied (splotched with white) or checkered with spots on the wings.
One of the most striking of the show breeds, the Jacobin is a large pigeon seen in several color variations, including red, white and black and white patterns. Jacobins have a large feather ruff which conceals most of the face and eyes and spreads around the shoulders. Originally bred in India, Jacobins are now shown and sold throughout the world and demonstrate the power of pigeon breeding for selective characteristics. The Jacobin is one of many pigeon breeds emphasizing color and feather patterns, such as the Saxon fairy swallow with its fan-like foot muffs, or the gleaming metallic archangels.
Racing and homing pigeons compete to cover an established course within a specified time frame and are bred for speed, endurance and size. Resembling their ancestors and lacking the extensive feather variations of the show pigeons, racers such as the English dragoon and American racing pigeon occur in several color combinations including white, black and red, as well as various checkered and pied patterns. Proven racing pigeons are sought after as breeders for a new generation of racers, often commanding high prices.