The wild ancestor of the domestic pigeon found the world over, the Rock dove was originally domesticated as a food source. Feral pigeons are all shades of color: some bluer, some blacker, some pale gray with darker chequered markings, some an unusual shade of cinnamon-brown or dull brick-red, some more or less white, and others looking exactly like rock doves in the wild. In urban areas where numbers increase unchecked, they can become pests.
These birds are native to North Africa, Europe and southwest Asia. Feral doves occur worldwide, including throughout North America. A wild Rock dove nests in a crevice on a rocky seaside cliff, close to open shrub vegetation or agriculture. Feral doves inhabit old farm buildings within rural areas. In the cities, skyscrapers tend to be a substitute for their natural cliff surroundings.
Rock doves peck food off the ground and drink with their bill directly in water, to use it like a straw. A dove may bow and coo when threatening a rival, inflating its throat and walking around in a circle. These birds feed early in the morning and during the mid-afternoon, individually or in flocks. They roost together on walls or statues or in buildings. They flock while feeding, roosting, or sunning. Rock doves generally run or walk while bobbing their heads backward and forward. Their flight is a direct and steady path. This species is most often seen during the daylight - especially perched on buildings or in urban parks. They seek cover during the day when it is hot, and at night. When disturbed in a group, a rock dove takes off with a noisy sound like clapping. Doves, especially carrier or homing breeds, can find their way home over long distances. Despite this ability, a wild Rock dove is sedentary and rarely leaves its local area.
Rock doves are monogamous and pairs mate for life. Pairs may form any time during the year. Males and females work cooperatively for most aspects of parenting. The male supplies the nesting material and the female constructs the nest, being a platform of grass and twigs. Nest sites are used again and again, with nesting material added for each subsequent brood. In suburban and urban areas, doves will nest on a range of flat covered surfaces, such as ledges and beams on buildings and bridges. In natural areas, they use sheltered cliff-ledges. One pair may produce 5 or more broods per year. 2 eggs are laid, incubated by both parents for 16-19 days, both parents also feeding 'pigeon milk to their young, a fat and protein-rich liquid that they produce in their crops. The chicks leave the nest at around 4 weeks of age.
Numbers of Rock doves are suspected to be decreasing, due to interbreeding with domestic birds; in Israel declines have been recorded. Rock doves are eaten by humans and are used for laboratory research.
According to the IUCN Red List, the global Rock dove population size is around 260 million individuals. According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) resource, the total breeding population of the species in the UK is 550,000 pairs. The population in China is estimated at fewer than 100 breeding pairs, which have possibly been introduced. Overall, currently Rock doves are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List, but their numbers today are decreasing.
For several thousand years, Rock doves have been domesticated, being the forerunner of the domestic pigeon. Aside from use as food and pets, the domesticated birds can be used as homing pigeons. In the past they also had a role as carrier pigeons, and certain “war pigeons” have had significant roles during wartime, many pigeons having received medals and bravery awards for their services in the saving of hundreds of human lives.