Wood pigeons are the largest and heaviest member of the pigeon family in the UK with some birds weighing more than 600 grams. They are found across the country, on farmland, in woodlands and are becoming ever more common around towns and cities.
Adult birds are slate grey with several distinctive markings. They have yellow and white beaks with a blue and white patch on either side of their necks. They also have a faded pink chest, a white bar on each of their wings and a black band around the base of their tails. Until they are around 16 weeks old, young birds lack the neck markings and have a duller beak.
Wood pigeons breed all year round and make a nest that is a small platform of twigs. These are usually in the crowns of trees but can also be on ledges of buildings and sometimes even on the ground. Each female will only lay 2 eggs at a time. These are white and around 4 cm long and 3cm wide. The eggs take 17 days to hatch and when they do the chick, which are known as squabs will be fed a special milk like liquid by the parents. The parents create this in a small pouch in their throats known as a crop and as such it is known as crop milk. As the squabs grow the crop milk is gradually replaced by whole seeds, nuts and vegetation and after 30 to 34 days they are ready to leave the nest. Once they do leave they are still fed by their parents for a few more weeks before they become fully independent.
Wood pigeons are almost completely vegetarian and are often seen as a pests by farmers as they feed heavily on beans, wheat and corn. Each pigeon can peck more than 70 times a minute and fill their crops each day with food to digest over night. These crops can extend to be massive and can hold more than 200 beans, or up to 1000 grains of wheat.
They are also one of the only species of birds that can drink with their heads held down. Most birds have to lift their heads in order to swallow but wood pigeons can make a suction.
There are currently more than 5.4million pairs of wood pigeons in the UK and their numbers seem to be rising. The birds that are here do not migrate and rarely travel far from where they hatched but in northern Europe this is not the case. Each winter the birds that are there migrate south to spend the winter around the Mediterranean before heading back north for the spring. Although they are capable of these massive migrations they do not have the same inbuilt homing instinct of feral pigeons.
The normal life expectancy for a wood pigeon is around 4 years but one wild bird that was ringed as an adult, was then found dead 16 years later. Its completely possible that this birds was 1 or more years old when it was ringed but for now, we can say that wood pigeons do have the ability to live to at least 16 years and 16 weeks of age.
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