Sunday, March 14, 2010

Parque de las Palomas - Pigeon Park

Parque de las Palomas in Old San Juan has been surrendered to the birds. Don't bring any food there unless you want to be perched on and pooped on!

Paloma is Spanish for "dove", as in rock dove, the traditional name for the common pigeon (they are now called rock pigeons, or just pigeons). "Rock" refers to their native habitat, the rocky cliffs of Europe, Asia and North Africa. I don't know who would be more surprised, a sherpa finding a beautiful rock dove scavenging a city street, or a city-dweller on an exotic Nepalese vacation finding a "rat with wings" in the Himalayan mountains.

Pigeons love to roost in areas that resemble their natural, cliffy habitat. The nooks and crannies of buildings fill this bill perfectly. So do "pigeon holes", which are nooks and crannies man-made just for this purpose. Someone has dug pigeon holes into the ancient walls of Parque de las Palomas, and the pigeons love it.

These birds are feral pigeons (as are all city pigeons), meaning their ancestors escaped or were released from captivity and returned to the wild. True wild pigeons are all colored the same, bluish-grey with an iridescent neck, and two black bars on each wing. Pigeon breeders call these birds "blue bars".

Through selective breeding over the years, many other colors and patterns have developed. In the photo above, the cute couple in the upper right is a "spread" and a "red". (Purists might argue with me, but I am using the simplified naming convention developed by Cornell University's PigeonWatch.)

"Red" is self-explanatory. "Spread" refers to the way the pigment molecules are arranged in the bird's feathers. Bluish-grey feathers actually contain the same pigment as the feathers in the black bands. The pigment molecules in the black feathers are just spread out rather than clumped up, causing light to be absorbed more than reflected. So a pigeon that is completely black or dark grey is called a "spread". The bird in the lower right is also a spread.

The bird in the lower left is called a "pied". "Pied" means means "blotched", and in the pigeon world means "blotched with white". So more specifically, this is a "red pied".

To learn how you can help scientists collect data on pigeon colors and courtship displays, visit Cornell University's PigeonWatch. To learn the science behind these varied colors, check out this Pigeon Genetics website.

I'll close with a photo of the San Juan wall. San Juan was settled by the Spanish in 1521. They built this wall around the city during the 17th and 18th centuries, to keep out their European enemies and plundering pirates.


  1. I'm guessing "San Juan" as in Puerto Rico? ;o)

    It's interesting that the pigeons have there own place to hang out... although it must be dangerous for one's laundry bill to walk around there, even without food! :p

    I had too much fun as a child feeding and chasing pigeons in various Plazas in Europe to ever be really down on pigeons... there's something glorious about running across a plaza and having a cloud of birds take flight!

  2. i have a pigeon that have feathers in his legs what kind of pigeons are they.