Doves versus pigeons
Ask an ornithologist the difference between a dove and pigeon and you’re unlikely to get a clear-cut answer. The two terms are loosely interchangeable but dove is generally used for the smaller members of the family, pigeon for the larger.
They are a successful family: worldwide there are over 300 species, found on every continent except Antarctica. Here in Britain we have a mere five to look out for, at least two of which are almost certainly frequent visitors to your garden. If you live in an urban situation, then you will be all too familiar with the feral pigeon, the descendant of the wild rock dove. The latter lives on cliffs, and the feral pigeon has found buildings to be the ideal substitute.
The wood pigeon, the largest of our native pigeons, is a remarkably adaptable bird and one that thrives everywhere from town parks and city gardens to intensively farmed arable land. The old-fashioned name for the woodie is the ring dove. The white ring on the neck is a good way to tell it from the daintier stock dove, a bird that often occurs in rural gardens but seldom ventures into the suburbs. Intriguingly, it’s now officially called the stock pigeon.
Collared doves started nesting in Britain in the 1950s. They have been extraordinarily successful: today there’s hardly a garden in Britain where they can’t be found. In contrast, the dainty turtle dove has declined dramatically in recent years, so if you have these delightful birds with their purring song visiting your garden, consider yourself lucky.