Rare wild pigeons have been discovered in remote areas of Scotland and Ireland, extinct in most countries of the world.
Researchers have found colonies of rock pigeons, also known as rock pigeons, on islands off the coast of the British Isles.
An Oxford University the team used DNA tests to find the creatures, which are the wild ancestors of the common wild pigeons seen in cities.
They found that rock doves, or Columbus Libyadescended from the same lineage of wild pigeons from which modern wild and domestic pigeons are descended.
It has also been observed that some bird populations have interbred heavily with feral pigeons, while others have not.
The Oxford University team used DNA tests to identify rock pigeons, which are the wild ancestors of the common wild pigeons seen in cities.
Researchers sequenced rock dove DNA from feather samples to determine if the birds were indeed “wild”. They also assessed their genetic influence from wild pigeons.
Coloration: bluish-gray back and wing coverts and pale gray underparts.
What they eat: seeds and cereals
Where they live: the northern and western coasts of Scotland, on the islands and on the coast of Northern Ireland.
Rock doves nesting in sea caves and mountains are extinct in most of the world.
Study lead author Will Smith, an Oxford PhD student, said: “We have determined the origin of wild pigeons in most of our sampled populations of Scottish and Irish rock pigeons, and in Europe wild pigeons have been around for hundreds of years.
“So it was really surprising to find that the Outer Hebridean mountain pigeons showed little sign of hybridization.”
While wild pigeons, which are descended from escaped domesticated birds, can be found in cities around the world, rock pigeon populations are declining.
Once they flew and lived in the vast expanses of Africa, Asia and Europe, but now they live only in small territories that wild pigeons have not been able to colonize.
They are already extinct in England and Wales.
Studying the decline of rock pigeons has been difficult for researchers because they interbreed so extensively with wild pigeons.
Due to interbreeding, many experts believe that there are no truly wild rock pigeons left.
However, potential colonies exist in Europe, the Faroe Islands, parts of the Mediterranean, and the British Isles.
For the study, the team studied populations of birds thought to be rock doves in Scotland and Ireland.
They sequenced their DNA from feather samples to determine if the birds were truly “wild”.
They also assessed the genetic impact feral pigeons had on various wild populations.
Wild and presumed rock pigeons have been studied in North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, and Cape Clear Island in Ireland.
The researchers were able to use the data to show differences between wild pigeons and rock pigeons, as well as measure the degree of interbreeding between the two forms of the species.
Rock pigeons in the Outer Hebrides have also been found to be almost unaffected by wild pigeons. In contrast, rock pigeons in Orkney have undergone extensive interbreeding with wild pigeons and are endangered as a separate lineage.
Results published today in iScienceshowed that rock pigeons are descended from a wild line from which all wild and domestic pigeons are descended.
Rock pigeons in the Outer Hebrides have also been found to be almost unaffected by wild pigeons.
In contrast, rock pigeons in Orkney have undergone extensive interbreeding with wild pigeons and are endangered as a separate lineage.
The researchers said it was “surprising” to find rock pigeons in the Outer Hebrides did not interbreed much with wild pigeons.
Feral pigeons are becoming more and more common on these islands, which could mean that the number of feral pigeons in the UK continues to decline.
The team says that recording the creatures’ distribution and genetic status will help them track remaining rock pigeon populations and understand other wild pigeon species that may live elsewhere.
In addition, a better understanding of “extinction by hybridization” will help prevent the fate of many other plants and animals, such as the Scottish wildcat, from the same fate as the rock dove.
Experts say turtledoves are on the brink of extinction due to the lack of seeds they eat from crops during the warmer months.
The turtle dove is the fastest endangered bird species in the UK and is critically endangered.
There are currently just 2,100 breeding pairs in the UK, according to the first national survey of endangered birds.
Huge numbers of hunters are shot in Europe during their annual migratory flight over 3,000 miles to spend the winter in sub-Saharan Africa.
They are thought to be in decline due to the lack of seeds they eat from their crops in spring and summer.
The study shows that turtledove populations have declined by 98 percent over the past half century.
Turtle doves are thought to be in decline due to the lack of seeds they eat from crops in the spring and summer. A project called Operation Turtle Dove is working to restore and create new breeding grounds for the birds.