The Band-tailed pigeon sounds like an owl, or so we thought, when we first heard it. We were sitting and having a picnic right under one when it started calling. It was a definite “whoo, whoo, who” sound. We were surprised when we found it was not an owl, but this rather unusual looking pigeon.
The Band-tailed Pigeon is a native bird in the United States. It is the largest of the North American pigeons at around 14 ½-15 ½”. Males and females look alike. They are gray overall with dark eyes, red eye rings and yellow bills with black tips.
Their heads and chests are a purple-gray color which shine pink in the sun. They have a narrow partial white neck band. Below the neck band they have a patch of iridescent green feathers. Near the lower belly, they have white feathers; they have yellow legs and feet. The tail is dark gray above. When it is fanned out, you will see that there are wide light gray tips on the tail feathers. The juvenile is gray overall but the neck band is missing and it doesn’t have the iridescent patch on its neck.
Range and Habitat
They are found most commonly in the coniferous forest along the Pacific Northwest; in the southern part of their range they are found in oak forests. They are found in two distinct regions of the west, and will travel from one area to the other. They breed in Alaska, south through California. They also breed in Texas, Utah, Colorado, and south to Mexico. They are found wintering in California, New Mexico, and western Texas. They have particularly adapted to Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities. They are permanent residents down the west coast and in the Southwestern parts of the United States.
The Band-tailed Pigeons are shy and are sometimes hard to see. They do most of their foraging in trees but will come down to the ground to forage. When they are in the trees, you might see them feeding upside down. In the winter they feed mostly on acorns, but they also like holly berries, ornamental berries, seeds, young spruce cones, grasshoppers, insects, and flower buds. They will also visit bird feeders.
They have adapted to the suburbs so you might find them in city parks where they roost in conifers. They are social and forage in flocks most seasons. Outside of breeding season, they may form flocks of 50 or more birds. They can be nomadic as they search for acorns. When they fly, their fight is swift and direct.
Breeding and Nesting
Band-tailed Pigeons are monogamous. The pairs breed in woodland areas. It is common to see several pairs in a loose colony. During display, it is common for the female to slap her wings in an action which looks like a young bird begging to be fed. The male displays by stepping around the female and fanning his tail. They also have display flights. The male brings nesting material to the female and the she builds the nest. It is a platform of loosely woven sticks in a tree.
The female lays one or two white eggs. Both of the parents will incubate the eggs for 18-20 days. They also will both feed the chicks “pigeon’s milk”, a rich milky substance made in their crops. The young grow quickly and leave the nest in about 4 weeks. The parents will continue to feed them for several more weeks. They have 2 or 3 broods a year.