Bird of the Week

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Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the band-tailed pigeon.

Unlike the closely related rock pigeon, introduced from Europe in the 1600s and a common sight in cities, the band-tailed pigeon is native to the American west. Band-tails occur in two distinct populations, one in the wet forests of the Pacific coast and the other in dry mountain forests of the southwest.

In our region, band-tails breed in coniferous and mixed forests with berry producing shrubs between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. They are primarily vegetarian, eating fruits, berries, pine nuts, tree buds, flowers and grains. Agile birds, they may hang upside down to feed in trees. Our bumper crop of acorns this year is good news for these birds, who swallow acorns whole. They will also visit feeders to dine on seeds.

The breeding season of band-tailed pigeons is long and they may nest up to three times a year, but typically they produce only one chick per clutch. Both parents feed nestlings pigeon milk, a thick milky substance of protein and fat produced in the parent’s crop. Band-tails seen here winter south of the Mexican border.

Adults are large, colorful birds with a purplish-colored head and underside, grayish back and a white crescent shape and iridescent green feathers on the back of the neck. Red eyes and a yellow bill tipped with black are characteristic. They are named for the pale gray band of feathers at the tip of the tail. Gregarious year-round, they travel in small to large flocks.

Hunting pressure nearly caused these birds to suffer the same fate as the extinct passenger pigeon. Although hunting may still contribute to current population declines, loss of suitable habitat is a larger threat.

For information on future events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org and www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.