The common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus), also known as simply wood pigeon, is a large species in the dove and pigeon family (Columbidae), native to the western Palearctic. It belongs to the genus Columba, which includes closely related species such as the rock dove (Columba livia). It has a flexible diet, predominantly feeding on vegetable matter, including cereal crops, leading to them being regarded as an agricultural pest. Wood pigeons are extensively hunted over large parts of their range, but this does not seem to have a great impact on their population.

Common wood pigeon
Temporal range: Middle Pleistocene–Recent
Perched on a garden fence post, England
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae
Genus: Columba
C. palumbus
Binomial name
Columba palumbus
Global range
  Year-round range
  Summer range
  Winter range
A large common wood pigeon standing on a garden fence
Common wood pigeon perched on a fence. Photograph taken in Cambridge, England



The common wood pigeon was formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae. He placed it with all the other pigeons in the genus Columba and coined the binomial name Columba palumbus.[2] The specific epithet palumbus is an alternate form of the Latin palumbes for a wood pigeon.[3][4]

Five subspecies are recognised, one of which is now extinct:[5]

  • C. p. palumbus Linnaeus, 1758 – Europe to western Siberia and Iraq; Northwest Africa
  • C. p. maderensis Tschusi, 1904 – Madeira (extinct)
  • C. p. azorica Hartert, 1905 – the eastern and central Azores
  • C. p. iranica (Zarudny, 1910) – southwestern and northern Iran to southwestern Turkmenistan
  • C. p. casiotis (Bonaparte, 1854) – southeastern Iran and Kazakhstan to western China, northwestern India and Nepal

† = extinct

Fossil records of the species are known from the early Middle Pleistocene of Sicily.[6]


Adult common wood pigeon, photograph taken in Birmingham, England

The three Western European Columba pigeons, common wood pigeon, stock dove and rock dove, though superficially alike, have very distinctive characteristics; the common wood pigeon may be identified at once by its larger size at 38–44.5 cm (15–17+12 in) and weight 300–615 g (10+5821+34 oz), and the white on its neck and wing.[7] It is otherwise a basically grey bird, with a pinkish breast. The wingspan can range from 68 to 80 cm (27 to 31 in) and the wing chord measures 24 to 25.4 cm (9+12 to 10 in). The tail measures 13.8 to 15 cm (5+12 to 6 in), the bill is 1.9 to 2.2 cm (34 to 78 in) and the tarsus is 2.5 to 2.8 cm (1 to 1+18 in).[8] Adult birds bear a series of green and white patches on their necks, and a pink patch on their chest. The eye colour is a pale yellow,[9] in contrast to that of rock doves, which is orange-red, and the stock pigeon, which is black.

Juvenile birds do not have the white patches on either side of the neck. When they are about 6 months old (about three months out of the nest) they gain small white patches on both sides of the neck, which gradually enlarge until they are fully formed when the bird is about 6–8 months old. Juvenile birds also have a greyer beak and an overall lighter grey appearance than adult birds.

Distribution and habitat


In the colder northern and eastern parts of Europe and western Asia the common wood pigeon is a migrant, but in southern and western Europe it is a well distributed and often abundant resident. In Great Britain wood pigeons are commonly seen in parks and gardens[10] and are seen with increasing numbers in towns and cities.


A flock of common wood pigeons feeding in a field
Adult sitting on its nest in a tree
Hatching of a Common Wood Pigeon

Its flight is quick, performed by regular beats, with an occasional sharp flick of the wings, characteristic of pigeons in general. It takes off with a loud clattering. It perches well, and in its nuptial display walks along a horizontal branch with swelled neck, lowered wings, and fanned tail. During the display flight the bird climbs, the wings are smartly cracked like a whiplash, and the bird glides down on stiff wings. The common wood pigeon is gregarious, often forming very large flocks outside the breeding season. Like many species of pigeon, wood pigeons take advantage of trees and buildings to gain a vantage point over the surrounding area, and their distinctive call means that they are usually heard before they are seen.

Wood pigeons are known to fiercely defend their territory, and will fight each other to gain access to nesting and roosting locations. Male wood pigeons will typically attempt to drive competitors off by threat displays and pursuit, but will also directly fight, jumping and striking their rival with both wings.[11]

This species can be an agricultural pest, and it is often shot, being a legal quarry species in most European countries. It is wary in rural areas, but often quite tame where it is not persecuted.


Two young Columba palumbus in a nest

It breeds in trees in woods, parks and gardens, laying two white eggs in a simple stick nest which hatch after 17 to 19 days. Wood pigeons seem to have a preference for trees near roadways and rivers. Males exhibit aggressive behaviour towards each other during the breeding season by jumping and flapping wings at each other. Their plumage becomes much darker, especially the head, during hot summer periods. Breeding can happen year round if there is food abundant however breeding season most commonly occurs in autumn usually in the months of August and September.

The nests are vulnerable to attack, particularly by crows. The young usually fly at 33 to 34 days; however, if the nest is disturbed, some young may be able to survive having left the nest as early as 20 days from hatching.

In a study carried out using ring-recovery data, the survival rate for juveniles in their first year was 52 per cent, and the adult annual survival rate was 61 per cent.[12] For birds that survive the first year the typical lifespan is thus only three years,[13] but the maximum recorded age is 17 years and 8 months for a bird ringed and recovered on the Orkney Islands.[14][15]



Most of its diet is vegetable, round and fleshy leaves from Caryophyllaceae, Asteraceae, and cruciferous vegetables taken from open fields or gardens and lawns; young shoots and seedlings are favoured, and it will take grain, pine nuts, and certain fruits and berries. In the autumn they also eat figs and acorns, and in winter buds of trees and bushes. They will also eat larvae, ants, and small worms. They need open water to drink and bathe in. Young common wood pigeons swiftly become fat, as a result of the crop milk they are fed by their parents. This is an extremely rich fluid that is produced in the adult birds' crops during the breeding season.[16][17]



The call of the wood pigeon is a loud and sustained characteristic cooing phrase, coo-COO-COO-coo-coo. In Ireland and the UK, the traditional mnemonic for the distinctive call of the bird has been interpreted as "Take two cows, Teddy", or "Take two cows, Taffy".[18][19] Other interpretations for the birdsong include "My toe bleeds, Betty".[20] and "I DON'T WANT to go".[21]



Predators of the wood pigeon typically consist of the Eurasian sparrowhawk, northern goshawk and domestic cat.[citation needed] The eggs and babies of wood pigeons are also often predated by crows.[22]



The wood pigeon is widely hunted over large parts of its range, with millions of birds being shot annually,[23] in part because it has been regarded as an agricultural pest, especially of cereal crops. In 1953, the British Government introduced a subsidy for the cost of cartridges to sport-hunters of wood pigeons, which was later abolished in 1969.[24]

In culture


The wood pigeon is mentioned several times in the Eclogues written by the ancient Roman poet Virgil. Referring to its distinctive husky call, Virgil writes in Eclogue 1;

Here beneath high rocks
The gatherers of leaves, with cheerful songs
Fill the high winds. Meanwhile thy turtle doves
And hoarse wood pigeons from the lofty elms

Make endless moan.[25]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2018). "Columba palumbus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2018: e.T22690103A131924602. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22690103A131924602.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae:Laurentii Salvii. p. 163.
  3. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. p. 290. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  4. ^ Lewis & Short. "palumbes". A Latin Dictionary – via Logeion.
  5. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Pigeons". IOC World Bird List Version 10.1. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 17 March 2020.
  6. ^ Pavia, Marco; Insacco, Gianni (2013). "The fossil bird associations from the early Middle Pleistocene of the Ragusa province (SE Sicily, Italy)" (PDF). Bollettino della Società Paleontologica Italiana (3). doi:10.4435/BSPI.2013.14. ISSN 0375-7633. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2023-07-16.
  7. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press (1992), ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  8. ^ David Gibbs, Eustace Barnes & John Cox (2001). A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-07886-2.
  9. ^ "Woodpigeon Bird Facts (Columba palumbus)". Bird Fact. Retrieved 2 August 2021.
  10. ^ Chandler, David (2007). RSPB Children's Guided To Bird Watching. A & C Black. p. 93. ISBN 978-0-7136-8795-8.
  11. ^ Cramp, S. (June 1958). "Territorial and other Behaviour of the Woodpigeon". Bird Study. 5 (2): 55–66. Bibcode:1958BirdS...5...55C. doi:10.1080/00063655809475903. ISSN 0006-3657.
  12. ^ Saether, B.-E. (1989). "Survival rates in relation to body weight in European birds". Ornis Scandinavica. 20 (1): 13–21. doi:10.2307/3676702. JSTOR 3676702.
  13. ^ "Woodpigeon Columba palumbus Linnaeus, 1758". Bird Facts. British Trust for Ornithology. 16 July 2010. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  14. ^ "European Longevity Records". Euring. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  15. ^ "Longevity records for Britain & Ireland in 2018". British Trust for Ornithology. Archived from the original on 3 December 2019. Retrieved 1 April 2020.
  16. ^ Cramp 1985, pp. 317, 326.
  17. ^ Gillespie, M. J.; Haring, V. R.; McColl, K. A.; Monaghan, P.; Donald, J. A.; Nicholas, K. R.; Moore, R. J.; Crowley, T. M. (2011). "Histological and global gene expression analysis of the 'lactating' pigeon crop". BMC Genomics. 12: 452. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-452. PMC 3191541. PMID 21929790.
  18. ^ Collins, Fergus (22 February 2022). "Guide to pigeons and doves of the UK". Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  19. ^ "Dawn Chorus". BBC. 22 April 2016. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  20. ^ "Songs of Woodpigeon and Collared Dove". British Trust for Ornithology. 22 August 2012. Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  21. ^ "A guide to common garden birdsongs and calls". Retrieved 2024-06-07.
  22. ^ Tomiałojć, Ludwik (2021-03-19). "Impact of Nest Predators on Migratory Woodpigeons Columba palumbus in Central Europe — Breeding Densities and Nesting Success in Urban Versus Natural Habitats". Acta Ornithologica. 55 (2). doi:10.3161/00016454AO2020.55.2.001. ISSN 0001-6454. S2CID 232326864.
  23. ^ O’Regan, Suzanne M.; Flynn, Denis; Kelly, Thomas C.; O’Callaghan, Michael J.A.; Pokrovskii, Alexei V.; Rachinskii, Dmitrii (January 2012). "The response of the woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) to relaxation of intraspecific competition: A hybrid modelling approach". Ecological Modelling. 224 (1): 54–64. doi:10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2011.10.018.
  24. ^ Murton, R. K.; Westwood, N. J.; Isaacson, A. J. (April 1974). "A Study of Wood-Pigeon Shooting: The Exploitation of a Natural Animal Population". The Journal of Applied Ecology. 11 (1): 61. Bibcode:1974JApEc..11...61M. doi:10.2307/2402005. JSTOR 2402005.
  25. ^ Mackail, J. (1908). Eclogues of Virgil. pp. [1].


  • Cramp, Stanley; et al., eds. (1985). "Columba palumbus Woodpigeon". Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume IV: Terns to Woodpeckers. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 311–329. ISBN 978-0-19-857507-8.