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Band-tailed Pigeon

Patagioenas fasciata ORDER: COLUMBIFORMES FAMILY: COLUMBIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A backwoods relative of the ubiquitous Rock Pigeon, the Band-tailed Pigeon is common in forests of the Pacific Coast and the Southwest. A sociable bird with a mellow coo, it forms large flocks in mountain forests where it feeds on seeds and fruits. As flocks pass overhead, these large, swift-flying pigeons can resemble Rock Pigeons, so look for the long tail with a wide, pale band at the tip. Up close, a distinctive white neck crescent adorns its pastel gray plumage.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
13–15.7 in
33–40 cm
Weight
12.1–12.8 oz
342–364 g
Relative Size
Slightly larger than a Rock Pigeon; smaller than an American Crow.
Other Names
  • Pigeon à queue barrée (French)
  • Paloma de collar, Paloma collareja, Paloma torcaza, Paloma encinera (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Band-tailed Pigeons have two distinct breeding populations in the United States, one along the West Coast and one in the Southwest. Individuals do move from one region to the other, and sometimes they wander even farther afield. One pigeon banded in Oregon was shot a year later in Florida, well outside the normal range.
  • Band-tailed Pigeons often travel far for food, flying an average of 3 miles between nesting and feeding areas, according to one study.
  • Like other doves, parents (both fathers and mothers) use a secretion from the esophagus known as crop milk to feed nestlings. Since they do not have to rely on specific food items for their chicks, Band-tailed Pigeons can have a long breeding season with multiple broods.
  • Like other doves and pigeons, Band-tailed Pigeons can suck up and swallow water without raising their heads.
  • The Band-tailed Pigeon is occasionally called the “blue rock,” because of the blue-gray hue of its back and its resemblance to the closely related Rock Pigeon. The two species are similar in size, posture, movements, and behavior. While the Rock Pigeon is a widespread introduced species, the Band-tailed Pigeon is native to western North America.
  • The oldest Band-tailed Pigeon on record was at least 18 years, 6 months old.

Habitat


Forest

Band-tailed Pigeons have two distinct breeding populations in North America, though individuals may move between the two regions. They breed in wet forests of the Pacific coast from southeastern Alaska to southern California, and in dry mountain forests in the southwestern United States (extending south through Mexico and Central America). On the Pacific coast, they live between sea level and 1,000 feet of elevation, in temperate rainforests of coniferous trees such as Sitka spruce, red cedar, western hemlock, Douglas-fir, and red alder. Their foraging habitat includes fruiting shrubs such as cascara, elderberry, Pacific madrone, cherry, and huckleberry. In the southwestern interior, they live between 5,000 and 10,000 feet of elevation, in coniferous or mixed forests dominated by pines and oaks, with many berry-producing shrubs. The Band-tailed Pigeon’s winter habitat lies in the southern portions of the breeding range, along with the western foothills of northern Baja California. A small, isolated population lives year-round in southern Baja.

Food


Seeds

Like other doves and pigeons, Band-tailed Pigeons are almost entirely vegetarian. They eat grain seeds, domestic and wild fruits (especially raspberries, blackberries, cherries, cascara, madrone, and elderberries), acorns, pine nuts, and flowers of woody plants. They travel long distances every day to feed, often to fields and orchards at lower elevations than their breeding habitat. In grain fields, Band-tailed Pigeons feed on the ground in rolling flocks, as individuals in the rear fly over their flockmates and land at the front to continue foraging. In forests and orchards, the pigeons may hang upside down to pick acorns, fruit, or buds. They swallow capless acorns whole. Parents feed their nestlings a substance called crop milk, secreted from the lining of their esophagus. In summer, adults of the Pacific coast region often visit natural springs and other bodies of water high in mineral salts. There they drink the water and peck the soil, possibly to boost their sodium intake.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–2 eggs
Number of Broods
1-3 broods
Egg Length
1.5–1.7 in
3.7–4.4 cm
Egg Width
1–1.2 in
2.6–3.1 cm
Incubation Period
16–22 days
Nestling Period
15–29 days
Egg Description
Smooth, glossy, and pure white.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, and covered with long, orange-yellow down.
Nest Description

The nest is a flat or saucer-shaped platform of haphazardly intertwined twigs, occasionally supplemented with sparse needles, moss, or breast feathers. Constructed by both partners over 3–6 days, it measures about 8 inches across and 4 inches tall on the outside, with an interior space about 5 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Nest Placement

Tree

Band-tailed Pigeons build nests on sturdy tree limbs, 10–180 feet from the ground, in trees such as Douglas-fir, acacia, lodgepole pine, or live oak. It’s unclear whether the male or female chooses the nest site. The male may lead the female to potential locations, while the female may have the final say.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Band-tailed Pigeons are gregarious all year round, flocking in groups of up to 300 birds. They may chase each other away from nest areas, but they are not known to fight with each other while feeding, even at high densities. Their flocking behavior may help protect them against predators, which include Peregrine Falcons, Prairie Falcons, Cooper’s Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Goshawks, and Great Horned Owls. (Nest predators include Common Ravens, Western Scrub-Jays, and tree squirrels.) A brooding parent may hiss, droop its wings, and bristle its feathers in an attempt to scare away a nest predator, even resorting to striking the intruder with its wings. Band-tailed Pigeons have a long nesting season, sometimes completing three nests in a single year, though each nest is likely to have only a single egg. Courtship happens in the trees: the male struts toward the female, swinging his head side to side or standing tall and pressing his bill down against his throat. The female responds by bobbing her head. The breeding pair is monogamous, and both parents incubate the egg and chick.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Band-tailed Pigeons are common within their range, but according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, North American populations declined 2.7 percent per year between 1966 and 2010 (amounting to a cumulative decline of 70 percent). Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million, with 39 percent spending part of the year in the U.S., 8 percent in Canada, and 37 percent in Mexico. They rate a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Early reports describe seeing millions of pigeons, but the birds were hunted heavily by sportsmen and also shot by disgruntled farmers, who charged the birds were digging up grain or eating sprouts. The species had no legal protection until after the winter of 1911–1912, when a large number of the pigeons were slaughtered for market in southern California. This event triggered public outrage in light of the recent extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, and the Band-tailed Pigeon became federally protected. Hunting resumed in many areas by the middle of the century, with occasional heavy harvests, but in the late 1960s–1980s legal harvest limits were sharply reduced. The pigeons are still hunted in six American states (California, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, with a total harvest of about 25,000 per year in the U.S.), and in Mexico and Central America. Current declines may be related to continued hunting, and possibly from changes in land use over the last century.

Credits

Range Map Help

Band-tailed Pigeon Range Map
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Migration

Year-round resident to medium-distance migrant. Band-tailed Pigeons that breed along the northern Pacific coast usually migrate to central California or farther south in the fall, while most individuals from the Southwest move south of the Mexican border. In each of the two breeding populations, southern individuals may stay in one place all year. Band-tailed Pigeons live year-round in some northern cities, including Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland, where they eat from feeders and holly orchards.

Backyard Tips

Band-tailed Pigeons visit bird feeders to eat seeds, and they are attracted to berry bushes and fruit trees. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Find This Bird

Band-tailed Pigeons can be found in two separate regions in North America: dry mountain forests of the Southwest and wet forests of the Pacific Coast. They’re often way out of sight in tall trees, so keep an eye out for flocks of these large pigeons flying swiftly overhead—their overall pale gray color, combined with dark wingtips and a pale tip to the tail, will help you recognize them. Also watch for chunky birds perched on bare tree limbs; these pigeons routinely sit on conspicuous perches. If you do see one perched, look for the white crescent on its neck and for its black-tipped yellow bill and yellow feet. While walking in the forest you may hear them calling with deep, slow coos.