There's more to discover. Continue scrolling for the full article below.
Whether we’re cursing their droppings or admiring their affectionate and peaceful ways, Pigeons are a part of everyday life for people all over the world. However, the Pigeon is much more than a mere bird for many people. These abundant avians have a long history of symbolism, and that’s just what this article will uncover.
Read along with us to learn all about the meaning of Pigeons!
There are over 350 Dove and Pigeon species in the world, but one, the Rock Dove (Columba livia), has been a part of our lives for between 5,000 and 10,000 years. With such a long history, it comes as no surprise that we have such a deep-rooted symbolic relationship with these birds.
First domesticated for food, we later learned about the Pigeon’s remarkable homing ability, which was useful both for sport and communication. Selective breeding shaped these birds into avian athletes and a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors that have captured our hearts.
Their role as loyal messengers has had a profound impact on their reputation, turning a visually unremarkable bird into a celebrated war hero. Used to transport messages since at least the 12th century in Central Asia and the Middle East, these birds were employed well into the last century for service in the First and Second World Wars.
Pictured: A group of Homing Pigeons. Selective breeding shaped these birds into avian athletes and a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors that have captured our hearts
Perhaps the most enduring Pigeon symbolism is that of peace. Typically pictured as a pure white bird, many know the story of Noah’s Dove, who flew from the ark and returned with an olive branch in its bill, signaling it had found land and that all the Ark’s inhabitant’s time of hardship could end.
In Islam, the Pigeon is considered a pure animal. It is said that the Pigeon saved the Prophet Muhammad and his companion from capture by sending a pair of Pigeons to nest outside the cave where they were hiding, thus fooling their pursuers into believing the cave was deserted.
Pigeons are still used ceremoniously as a sign of peace and are often released at events like weddings. These birds were traditionally released by soldiers at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a practice dating back to 1920. However, this ritual ended after an unfortunate incident in 1988 when some were burned during the cauldron lighting ceremony in Seoul, South Korea.
Pigeons are strongly associated with fidelity and love due to their strictly monogamous breeding habits. They are devoted parents, both contributing to care for their baby Pigeons. However, they display incredible affection even away from the nest.
Pigeons are strongly associated with fidelity and love due to their strictly monogamous breeding habits
Doves have long been seen as symbols of peace, love, and compassion in various cultures across the globe.
In one of Aesop’s Fables called ‘The Dove and the Ant,’ a compassionate Dove sees an ant drowning in a stream. The Dove drops a blade of grass into the water so the ant can climb to safety. Later, when the Dove is about to be killed by a hunter, the ant returns the favor by biting the man’s foot.
Pictured: A White Dove. Doves have long been seen as symbols of peace, love, and compassion in various cultures across the globe
Pigeons and Doves have been featured in art and literature for millennia. As a bird of rich symbolic meaning, they are well represented in literature and poetry, including a touching poem by English romantic poet John Keats.
Several paintings in the Egyptian North Palace of Armana depict Pigeons and these stretch back to the 14th century BC. More recently, both Pablo Picasso and his father, José Ruiz Blasco, produced numerous paintings of Pigeons, and this ancient tradition continues today in contemporary art.
These birds have also been featured elsewhere in the visual arts, notably in the work of famous street photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson who captured them in both a street scene as well as more intimate images of the French artist Henri Matisse.
Pigeons feature in ancient and modern symbolism in cultures across the globe. Continue reading to learn more about some notable examples from around the world:
Pigeons or Doves were one of the symbols of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of fertility, beauty, and love. She is often depicted with these birds in sculptures and pottery dating back thousands of years.
Pigeons were important in Native American Cultures both as a food source and in religion. The Seneca believe the now-extinct Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius) gave of itself to create children, while the Blackfoot people held the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) as a symbol of protection.
Pigeon symbolism has been known in China since at least the pre-Qin Dynasty (pre-700 BC). At the start of the Han Dynasty, these birds came to represent filial piety which is respect and care for parents and the elderly.
Pictured: A Mourning Dove. Pigeons were important in Native American Cultures both as a food source and in religion
A Pigeon appearing in dreams could have many interpretations, although these birds are typically seen as a good omen. Possible interpretations include:
The Pigeon might not be one of the most impressive spirit animals, although these birds certainly have noble intentions. The Pigeon spirit is one of love and peace that could perfectly embody individuals with a calling and message to share.
While Pigeons remain popular with breeders and racers all over the world, they have fallen out of favor with many people in the modern era.
Often portrayed negatively in the media and even described as ‘rats with wings’, our long history with Pigeons is being eroded. Concerns over their ability to spread diseases and the masses of droppings they leave in our cities and urban areas are some of the major reasons for our changing attitude toward these birds.
Examples of Pigeons in the Modern Media:
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.