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[13] Kil Ndege Huruka na Mbawa Zake

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[13] Kila Ndege Huruka na Mbawa Zake – A blog about Pigeons … and other birds

I supposed it had to happen eventually. I have picked a saying from Swahili for a title. The Swahili language is full of meaningful sayings. ‘Kila ndege huruka na mbawa zake’ translates as ‘Every Bird Flies with its Own Wings.’ I will leave it to you to consider its deeper philosophical meanings. I’m just here using it because I’m talking about birds. I have done one blog already about Waterfowl. This one is, more or less, about pigeons.

Rock Doves and Pigeons

Once upon a time there used to be a species of bird called the Rock Dove, Columba livia. (There still is but I wanted to make a dramatic start! Its relative, the Pasenger Pigeon, is a different story. This was hunted in millions in America and is an example of a species made extinct by man.)

The Rock Dove is found in rocky places like sea cliffs. Its feathers are predominantly grey with dark bars across its back – a bit like the picture above. In sunlight the neck feathers sometimes show areas of shiny pink and green.

The bird became domesticated in many areas, primarily for food, but also as racing pigeons and Show varieties. Many escaped and bred and spread and now the Feral Pigeon is almost ubiquitous. They are much, much more common than the remaining original Rock Doves. Many birders almost treat them as separate but they are still Columba livia.

In the words of the RSPB web-site where it considers pigeons, ‘Feral pigeons come in all shades, some bluer, others blacker – some are pale grey with darker chequered markings, others an unusual shade of dull brick-red or cinnamon-brown, and still others can be or less white while others look exactly like wild rock doves.’

I deplore the term ‘Feral Pigeon.’ Nowadays they are not escaped birds. They have survived in the wild for dozens of generations.

In the group above at Pittville Park there are several varieties including some that look like proper Rock Doves.

Here are some more Pigeon pictures, mostly from Pittville or Slimbridge.

Sometimes you can see two together and differences are obvious.

I can never resist close-ups. As for geese, the necks show feather details well.

My favourites are the pure white ones but with inter-breeding you can get varying amounts of white.

This won’t just be about pigeons. Because I see and photograph so many birds I will show you a few more of my favourite common ones here. (The rest will produce at least one more blog.)


There is a closely related bird, the Woodpigeon (or Wood Pigeon,) Columba palumbus. In Britain it’s one of our most common species. (There are many people who regard both as ‘rats with feathers.’)

Above you can see the two together. The Wood Pigeon at the back is larger and mostly grey but also has a pinkish breast and a white operculum. (That’s the white bit on its nose.) It is easy to distinguish by the large white spot on its neck, although juvenile birds do not have this spot.

Pigeons and Wood Pigeons both seem happy to make use of human environments and they breed freely.

The Crow Family

To many people pigeons are boring grey birds and the crow family are boring black birds. But they are my favourites. The common black ones are Rooks, Crows and Jackdaws. All three are generally very wary and difficult to photograph.

The Rook, Corvus frugilegus, is very gregarious, normally just seen on farmland where they feed on worms, insects and other small animals and cereal. I’m never sure if it’s a trick of my camera but they appear distinctly blue when photographed. The long pointed bill with the white skin area are easy identification markings.

If you wonder how I get such good pictures there are two places where I find these birds relatively easily. Like juvenile Starlings, lone Rooks are often seen at Motorway Services. I assume that they are either injured or have been rejected by their flocks for some reason.

I also find them at Slimbridge, where they take advantage of the food put down for the ducks. Again these are generally lone birds. You can get much closer to these than any of those in large agricultural groups, sometimes very close.

I assume that this one, without the while on its bill, is probably a first year juvenile bird.

The lone birds have probably come from the rookery high in the trees by the Zeiss Hide.

The Crow, Corvus corone, is not gregarious, normally seen as one or two at a time. This part of their nature is so significant that there are sayings like ‘A Crow in a crowd is a Rook; a Rook on its own is a Crow.’

(There are several crow species around the World and technically our black European version is a Carrion Crow but we call them just Crows.)

These are the nearest I have been able to get to a good Crow picture. You can see that the bill is very different to a Rook.

I think the second one let me get quite near because it couldn’t see me very well in the mist. I couldn’t see it either and have adjusted contrast levels a bit.

My favourite of these three is the Jackdaw, Corvus monedula, because of its attractive silvery grey neck. It can often be found amongst groups of rooks and is generally more approachable at Slimbridge.

I am fairly sure that they nest in the trees at Slimbridge. They are often seen in pairs. This one is definitely gathering materials for a nest.


We have three common species of gull in Brirain – the Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull and Black-headed Gull. (I said common. The Common Gull is not common! )

I will say more about all three in another blog about birds but I will just end this one with some pictures of the Black-headed Gull, Chroicocephalus ridibundus, in its winter plumage. Of the three it’s the smallest and prettiest.

You will have to wait for its summer plumage, when the head gets dark brown. (No, not black. The names of bird species are not that accurate!)

I have also saved one more member of the Crow family, the Magpie, and there will be many more birds …




Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

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