Is there a difference between a dove and a pigeon? Technically, no. There is no difference. “Dove” and “pigeon” are just names used to call the different bird species of the Columbidae family. In the simplest understanding, smaller species are called “doves” and the larger species “pigeons”, however, this is not a hard and fast rule.
The word “dove” has purer connotations, whilst “pigeon” can arouse a variety of reactions, ranging from indifference to disgust, fear to hatred. This is a shame since they are one and the same. But as Dr. Jean Hansell so nicely put: “People just don’t make the connection between the dove of peace and the pigeon in the street.” *
(For many people, though, the word “pigeon” will make them smile with love.)
It is quite funny how the so called “white dove” can be considered cleaner and nicer than a feral pigeon – considering that the white dove is in fact simply a white coloured racing pigeon. These white pigeons are commonly released at events such as weddings and graduations. (Not to be confused with the white ringneck dove species that has no homing instinct and should never be released at events!) It may simply be that the colour white is associated with kindness, purity and cleanliness in people’s minds – regardless of what type of bird it is.
Some people make a difference between racing pigeons, fancy pigeons and the common feral pigeon, however, when you strip away their seperate names, you’re simply left with a pigeon – albeit ones bred for different purposes. But neither type are better than the other. Some come in fancy shapes and colours, some can race, and some can clean up the food litter dropped by careless humans. They all deserve respect and in many cases, admiration.
* Blechman, Andrew D. (2006). Pigeons: The fascinating saga of the world’s most revered and reviled bird. Grove Press, New York.