The Nun Pigeon: Breed Guide

A striking looking bird, the Nun pigeon is a domesticated fancy breed that has developed after years of careful selective breeding.

It’s one of the oldest pigeon breeds and is thought to have ancestral ties to the Helmet pigeon

the nun pigeon

Other Names For The Nun Pigeon

While Nun pigeon is the most common name for this breed, it also goes by another name.

In some circles it’s referred to as the Dutch Shell pigeon.

This name is mostly used in continental Europe while the UK and USA prefer nun. 

This name has stuck due to it’s distinctive black and white coloring, which is similar to a nuns habit.

Nun Pigeon Origins

The Nun pigeon is considered one of the oldest breeds, though the exact origins are unknown.

There is a reference to it in the 1600s by Aldrovandi (an Italian naturalist who was instrumental in the creation of Bologna’s botanical gardens, one of the oldest in Europe), and also by Moore in 1735 in “A Treatise on Domestic Pigeons”.

The Nun pigeon began as a tumbler pigeon before moving on to its current status as a show pigeon.

This breeding of the high class modern Nun happened in the UK from the 1800s onwards. 

The Nun pigeon was referred to by Charles Darwin in this book, “The Variation of Plants and Animals Under Domestication”, and in correspondence with a Mr. James Murray Fleming.

In this letter, Murray makes note that Darwin had used a nun pigeon in his breeding programs to produce a fancy pigeon and was rather disparaging, describing the nun as “not a high-bred” bird.

Nun Pigeon Appearance

A smaller breed, the Nun is described as short and stocky, reaching a height of 23-24 cm (without the shell crest) and length of 25 cm.

It grows to an average weight of about 370 grams.

It is the shell crest that gives the bird its name.

The upturned set of feathers at its neck gives it the appearance of wearing a nun’s wimple, giving the bird the appearance of being bigger than it is.

The upturned feathers give it a similar look to the Helmet and Mookee pigeon breeds.

Breeders aim for the crest to be as big and showy as possible. 

The Nun pigeon is mostly white with a yellow or black head and unusually for a pigeon, has pearly white eyes.   

Nun pigeons don’t have any feathers on their feet and their beak is usually straight.

They have a well-rounded chest, and their body narrows toward the tail.

Their tails tend to be narrow and short with 12 feathers. 

While the Nun pigeon is mostly white, the coloured feathers appear in a variety of hues.

That includes black, dun, khaki, brown, silver, blue, red, indigo, lavender and yellow.

They are sometimes banded in shades of brown or khaki. 

Nun Pigeon Behaviour

Like many pigeon breeds, the Nun is docile and friendly.

That makes it easy to tame and enables them to be kept as pets.

They make excellent exhibition birds, but the inherent tumbling gene remains making them good fliers, especially at altitude. 

They are friendly and sociable and usually do well interacting with other pigeons. 

If you’re looking for a friendly bird that is easy to tame and take care of, and is enjoyable to watch and interact with, the Nun pigeon is a great choice. 


Dan has been fascinated with pigeons since his youth when he used to feed them breadcrumbs at the local park. With a background in SEO Dan noticed a few years ago that there were very few websites around dedicated to his favorite bird so he set out to change that by starting Pigeonpedia.

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