Life of the Pigeon

Big pigeons are known as pigeons (a word of French origin), and little pigeons are known as doves (from an Old English word). One species or another of these birds flourishes in almost every area of the world. Alexander F. Skutch has studied birds for fifty years and has written more than twenty books about them. LIFE OF THE PIGEON includes twelve chapters, each devoted to a separate topic: “The Pigeon Family,” “Eating and Drinking,” “Daily Life,” “Voice and Courtship,” “Nests and Eggs,” “Incubation,” “The Young and Their Care,” “Rate of Reproduction,” “Pigeons and Man,” “Homing Pigeons,” “How Pigeons Find Their Way,” and “Darwin’s Pigeons.” Each chapter is accompanied by a scholarly bibliography, and there are four tables on incubation and feeding plus an index.

Nonspecialists will find some of these topics more absorbing than others, but most readers will enjoy and be rewarded by the account of research on bird navigation. Some birds use the Pole Star, many use the sun, and at least some use Earth’s magnetic field. Some pigeons may even use their sense of smell.

Skutch’s prose is always a model, with a grace that carries it beyond the merely utilitarian. And Dana Gardner’s twenty-four full-page watercolors are stunning; they are accompanied by twenty-nine black-and-white drawings.