columba livia

Columba (genus)

The large bird genus Columba comprises a group of medium to large stout-bodied pigeons, often referred to as the typical pigeons. The term columba is the latinized form of the Ancient Greek κόλυμβος (kolumbos) “a diver”, from κολυμβάω (kolumbao), “to dive, plunge headlong, swim”. Aristophanes (Birds, 304) and others use the word κολυμβίς (kolumbis) "diver", for the name of the bird, because of its swimming motion in the air.

As with other genera in the family, the terms dove and pigeon are used interchangeably, although smaller species are more likely to be called doves. The species commonly referred to just as the "pigeon" is the feral Rock Pigeon (Columba livia). It is this species that has given rise to the majority of domesticated pigeon varieties, including the racing pigeon.

Most species in this genus are found in the Old World, but there are a few representatives in the Americas, and some species, notably the Feral Pigeon, have been introduced outside their natural range.

The American species of Columba should be split off as a separate genus, Patagioenas, as it was done by the American Ornithological Union. That the American radiation constitutes a distinct lineage is borne out by molecular evidence

Species remaining in Columba are:

A fossil species, Columba omnisanctorum, was described from the Early Pliocene (5.3-3.6 mya) of the Gargano Peninsula and surroundings, Italy. A supposed "falcon" fossil from nearby contemporary and Middle Pliocene (3.6-2.6 mya) sites may either be a distinct species Columba pisana or the same, in which case the latter name would apply.

Another prehistoric pigeon, Columba congi, was described from Early Pleistocene remains found in the famous Zhoukoudian caves in China.



  • (2001): A molecular phylogeny of the dove genera Streptopelia and Columba. Auk 118(4): 874-887. PDF fulltext
  • (2002): Cenozoic Birds of the World, Part 1: Europe. Ninox Press, Prague. ISBN 80-901105-3-8 PDF fulltext

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