Skip to Content

White-crowned Pigeon Life History

Habitat

Habitat Forests

In Florida, White-crowned Pigeons roost and nest mostly in island mangrove forests of both red and black mangroves, usually where other native trees also grow, such as gumbo-limbo, seagrape, buttonwood, black torch, poisonwood, and others. Because these habitats produce relatively little fruit for their diet, they typically fly to forage each morning, sometimes quite a distance from where they roost. These foraging areas are in higher elevations of the Keys or on the Florida mainland, often in moist tropical deciduous forests that have over 100 species of fruit-bearing native trees, many of them evergreen or semi-evergreen. In the Caribbean, it nests in many kinds of coastal forest, including exotic plantings, and uses dry forests, moist forests, and even pine woods for foraging. An important requirement for nesting habitat is the absence of predators such as raccoons, and this is also true for large roosts of pigeons that gather before migration.

Back to top

Food

Food FruitWhite-crowned Pigeons eat mostly ripe fruit of native West Indian trees and shrubs, and occasionally wasps and flies, small snails, seeds, or flowers. They also consume grit and salt from the ground, like other pigeons. Early in the morning, single birds and small flocks depart for habitats with fruiting trees, often over 30 miles one way. They typically feed while perched near treetops but occasionally feed from lower in the tree or from the ground. Like other arboreal pigeons, they contort themselves gracefully to reach a piece of fruit while clinging to a slender branch. They swallow most fruits whole, regurgitating only the larger seeds. They feed their young “pigeon milk,” or crop milk, a thick paste shed from the lining of the crop that is rich in protein and fat. Among the most important trees for the diet of the White-crowned Pigeon are shortleaf and strangler figs, black torch, royal palm, coco plum, pigeon plum, cordia, broad-leaved blolly, ratwood, boxwood, gumbo-limbo, mastic, black poisonwood, willow bustic, black ironwood, paradise tree, Bahama strongbark, inkwood, pigeonwood, and lancewood. Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeThe male selects a territory for the nest, usually 6 feet or more off the ground in a tree.

Nest Description

Both male and female build the nest, a sloppy-looking platform of small twigs lined with finer twigs.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-3 eggs
Egg Description:White.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, with long orange-yellow down.
Back to top

Behavior

Behavior Foliage Gleaner

White-crowned Pigeons nest in sometimes dense colonies of up to 500 pairs. They defend their nest territory but usually just the area closest to the nest. Courting males fly out slowly from the potential nest area, then with stiff wingbeats and wings flapping only above the body, not below it, they glide smoothly back to their perch. When a female shows interest, the male bows, coos and spreads his tail while pivoting back and forth. A new pair spends a lot of time perched side by side and preening each other's heads and necks. Breeding probably occurs during periods of abundant fruit, which may happen at any time of year. In Florida, most breed during the warmer months, and many migrate southward or to the Bahamas for winter.

Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Declining

The White-crowned Pigeon is still fairly numerous, but its population is in decline and its habitat is threatened. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 550,000 (with only a small fraction occurring in the U.S.). They rate the species a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and include it on the Yellow Watch List for species with declining populations. Hunting throughout its range (except Florida) has reduced or eliminated populations, and the taking of nestlings (“squabs”) as food for humans or livestock has had similar impacts. Their very limited coastal habitats have been destroyed by development and logging over much of its range. Since the 1990s, increasingly severe hurricanes have swept through the Caribbean and destroyed large sections of roosting and breeding habitats as well.

Back to top

Credits

Bancroft, G. Thomas, G. Thomas and Reed Bowman. (2001). White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala), 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. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2021.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2021.

Partners in Flight (2019). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2019.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

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

Back to top

Need Bird ID Help? Try Merlin

Close Merlin