Pigeons, Doves, and Their Latin Roots.

February 09, 2009

Today, I was delighted to receive an email from a friend that had Wordsmith.org's daily word post. Today's word was "columbarium", and you can read about it here. I was intrigued for many reasons. For one, I had just found a monotype intaglio print that I did on a steel plate of two domestic pigeons with "Columbidae" written across the bottom. Columbidae is the avian family that includes pigeons and doves, and along with corvids (ravens,crows,jays), is one of my favorites. "Columbarium" is defined as a room or wall with niches for funeral urns to be stored. It's origins are 18th century from Latin, literally meaning "pigeon house", the root "columba" meaning "pigeon or dove". The post highlights how bird references in language are so often used to denote negative things: bird brains, sitting duck, dodo etc. To counteract this a bit they posted a link to a couple of videos that demonstrate the extraordinary intelligence of corvids. But what species of bird is more maligned than the pigeon? The "rat with wings" to which they are often referred says it all. It seems like human nature is to revile the creatures that we share the most space with, and to a large degree our existence is the very reason for their flourishing (rats, mice, pigeons, cockroaches). It's as if we don't like to have the mirror held up to our faces, and we certainly don't want the competition. Anyway, bit of a tangent there...Throughout ancient history doves (and doves are a nice name for pigeons) were greatly revered and cherished. It was standard practice for nobility to keep large dovecotes. Last year I read Andrew Blechman's "Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird". I was never a pigeon hater, but the book definitely upped my respect and admiration for this family of birds. Check out Columbidae Conservation as well.


  1. I'm coming clean as a lover of pigeons. I love their nonconfrontational coos, their bobbing heads, their kindred love of cities, and especially those segments of shiny pink and purple on their necks, which always remind me of my favorite time of day, with the sun just coming up or going down.

    I love your observation of hating the things we share the most space with. I fear this may underwrite the way humans negotiate marriage, but it's very much on point. I'm so glad Tiny Aviary's back!

  2. I like pigeons, too. I like how in any given group of them, you can see many variations in color, size, expression. I don't often get to study groups of one species of animal at once otherwise. And as for columbarium, it's a word that I've always thought was prettier than what it means. Another is fontanelle. Also amygdala.

  3. oh, i'm a lover of pigeons. there is nothing more restful to me than the call of a mourning dove.

    we have lots of them here at our house; they are lovely creatures.

  4. I'm interested in dovecotes (pigeon roosts.) Apparently, they were recently banned by the Chicago city council. Do you have any idea where there are still pigeon roosts in the city, even if they are unused? I'm doing some research on this for a photography project.

    You prints and drawings are amazing!


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