For the Birds: Band-tailed Pigeon - Do You Have Some?

Monday, February 3, 2020

Distinctive collar of Band-tailed Pigeon
By Christine Southwick
Photos by Craig Kerns

Which bird is larger than a robin, has shades of gray all over and has a yellow bill and yellow feet?

Band-tail Pigeons are our native pigeon, and we are lucky to still have them around (they were almost hunted to extinction like the Passenger Pigeons).

They are the largest pigeon in Washington and have distinctive lighter gray bands on their tails which gave them their name. 

The males and females look alike (monomorphic), with a white collar at the nape of their neck, and an iridescent green patch below. The juveniles do not have that coloring until their second year.

Band-tailed Pigeon
These West Coast pigeons prefer edge areas thick with tall conifers, like clear cut edges, and parks and cities and towns located in low to mid-elevations. 

There is a second breeding population in the mountain forests of the Southwest.

They clumsily land and take off from bare branches on tall treetops. Look for 3-10 chunky-looking birds sitting on these exposed branches. 

Both mates build their 8-inch saucer-shaped nests hidden on sturdy tree limbs anywhere from 10-180 feet up, often in small colonies. 

They usually only lay one egg at a time, but may have two or three broods each season, with the same mate.

Eating local berries
Band-tailed Pigeons eat seeds and corn kernels at feeders, and berries, acorns, and nuts on bushes. 

Though our Band-tails live here year-round, some migrate to find food, and in the spring they search for mineral springs. 

They usually fly in small flocks here in Shoreline but can fly in larger flocks while looking for long-distance food sources.

In the wintertime many resident Band-tails rely on food supplied in ground, hopper, or fly-through feeders.

Some people really enjoy these big birds, and others think they eat too much food, and so discourage them.

Feasting at feeder
Note the bands on the pigeons tails

Band-tailed Pigeons, Merlins and flycatchers are some of the species known to use local bare treetops for roosting. That’s why tall conifers here in Shoreline and Lake Forest Park with open tops need to be saved.


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