What happened to the Rock Doves?The most astonishing thing occurred a few weeks ago, and yet hardly anybody noticed. All at once, every Rock Dove in North and South America suddenly disappeared. Gone. There are no more Rock Doves perched on our telephone wires, none cooing in our grand plazas, and none menacing our freshly washed cars. This ubiquitous super species, capable of adapting to even the grimiest, most contaminated urban areas, finally met a force it could not out-compete.

Please observe a moment of silence for the Rock Dove.

Why did no one notice this mass vanishing act. We suspect it is because this bird’s highly lucrative niche was not left vacant for a second. At the very moment of disappearance, every last dove was replaced by a new bird. This so-called Rock Pigeon looks and acts suspiciously like our old friends, right down to the distinctive black, white, and smoke gray variegated plumage and utter indifference to humans. Will the Rock Pigeon prove a kinder, gentler ruler of our cities, or are our windshields still in danger?

Yes, it is true. The common name of Columba livia has been officially changed from Rock Dove to Rock Pigeon. This taxonomic transformation was determined by the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) as published in their A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th Edition (with 44th Supplement, 2003). This checklist is the basis for the ABA checklist, so any AOU change affects the entire North American birding community!

Why did the AOU do it? This change was a response to the 1992 renaming of the Rock Dove by the British Ornithologist’s Union. Why did they do it? I’m not sure I understand completely. I believe it has something to do with calling a dove a dove and a pigeon a pigeon. They also moved all New World pigeons from Columba to a separate genus, Patagioenas. However, it doesn’t appear that Columba livia made the cut in that regard. The taxonomic legerdemain may confuse us, but it doesn’t bother the pigeons. Call them what you will; they’re not going anywhere.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.