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Band-tailed Pigeon Life History


ForestsBand-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.Back to top


SeedsLike 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.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeBand-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.

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.

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:1.0-1.2 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.
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Foliage Gleaner

Band-tailed Pigeons are gregarious 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.

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Common Bird in Steep DeclineBand-tailed Pigeons are common within their range, but according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, North American populations declined over 2% per year between 1966 and 2014 (amounting to a cumulative decline of 63%). Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 2 million, with 39% spending part of the year in the U.S., 37% in Mexico, and 8% breeding in Canada. They rate a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. 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.Back to top


Keppie, Daniel M. and Clait E. Braun. (2000). Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Raftovich, R. V., K. A. Wilkins, S. S. Williams and H. L. Spriggs. (2012a). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2010 and 2011 hunting seasons. Laurel: US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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