Dove. Doves and pigeons belong to the same family. They are often mentioned in the Bible as if they are the same animal. The rock dove found in Palestine is the wild ancestor of our common street pigeon. Turtledoves are migrants. They spend the months of April to October in the Holy Land, filling the air with soft cooing when they arrive each Spring (Song 2:11-12).
Doves come in several colors, from pure white to the chestnut-colored palm turtledove. Even the plain gray pigeon has a silver sheen. Solomon waxed poetic over doves’ eyes. David longed for “wings like a dove” (Ps. 55:6), so he could fly away from his enemies.
Pigeons were probably the first domesticated bird. When people realized doves could travel long distances and always find their way home, they used them to carry messages. Homing pigeons have keen eyes with which they spot landmarks to help them stay on the right route.
Hebrews ate pigeons and, from Abraham’s time, used them in sacrifice. Even a poor man could provide a pigeon or two for worship, as Joseph and Mary did at Jesus’ circumcision (Luke 2:21-24; Lev. 12:8).
Doves appear to express affection, stroking each other, and “billing and cooing.” They mate for life, sharing nesting and parenting duties. They are gentle birds that never resist attack or retaliate against their enemies. Even when her young are attacked, a dove will give only a pitiful call of distress.
Because of its innocence and gentle nature, the dove is a common religious symbol. The Holy Spirit took the form of a dove at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). The dove also symbolizes peace, love, forgiveness, and the church.