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Band-tailed Pigeon

Found in dense, mature forests with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, these birds are known for their ability to navigate through dense vegetation and fly through the forest canopy.

The Band-tailed Pigeon occupies a diversity of habitats in the western U.S., Mexico, and Central America. Arid montane forests, wetter coastal forests, oak woodlands, and chaparral are all called home by Band-tailed Pigeons in various parts of the species’ range.

Young Band-tailed Pigeons are fed a substance known as crop milk, something similar in texture to cottage cheese that is produced in the crops of the parent birds. As the young grow older and are about to leave the nest, they are fed less crop milk and more of the grains, fruits, and nuts that they will eat as adults.


Description of the Band-tailed Pigeon


The Band-tailed Pigeon is a large pigeon of western forests. It is mostly gray, with a paler gray tail, a white collar, and dark eyes. Its legs and bill are yellow.  Length: 14 in.  Wingspan: 26 in.

Band-tailed Pigeon

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.


The sexes are similar.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles can occur in any month, and lack the white collar.


Band-tailed Pigeons inhabit foothills, mountain forests, and oak canyons.


Band-tailed Pigeons eat nuts, berries, and seeds.


Band-tailed Pigeon

Band-tailed Pigeons forage both on the ground and in trees, where they are agile among the branches.


Band-tailed Pigeons are resident in parts of the westernmost U.S. and southwestern most Canada, and also breed in the southwestern U.S. The population is declining.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Band-tailed Pigeon.

Wing Shape

The shape of a bird’s wing is often an indication of its habits and behavior. Fast flying birds have long, pointed wings. Soaring birds have long, broad wings. Different songbirds will have a slightly different wing shape. Some species look so much alike (Empidonax flycatchers) that scientists sometimes use the length of specific feathers to confirm a species’ identification.

Wing images from the University of Puget Sound, Slater Museum of Natural History


Fun Facts

Like the more widespread Rock Pigeon, Band-tailed Pigeons are social, often foraging in flocks and nesting in small colonies.

Band-tailed Pigeons are nomadic, and there are records of the species in many states outside of its normal range.


The song consists of deep, owl-like hooting.


Band-tailed Pigeons will visit birdbaths.


Similar Species

No other pigeons have yellow legs and bill and dark eyes.

Rock Pigeon
The Rock Pigeon is the familiar city and park pigeon. Rock Pigeon plumages are quite variable and some may resemble Band-tailed Pigeon. The two species frequent different habitats.

See more: Types of doves in the U.S.


The Band-tailed Pigeon’s nest is a loose stick platform placed in the fork of a tree or at the base of a branch.

Number: Usually lay 1.

Color: white.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 18-20 days, and leave the nest in 25-30 days, though they continue to associate with the adults for some time.


Bent Life History of the Band-tailed Pigeon

Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.

Bent Life History for the Band-tailed Pigeon – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.




It was a bright, sunny, cold morning, after a frosty night in February, when I first made the acquaintance of this fine bird, the band-tailed pigeon. The sun was shining full of genial warmth on the tops of the tall sycamores and eucalyptus trees, which grew in a deep arroyo in southern California, but it had not yet penetrated to its shady depths, which still sparkled with white frost. I did not at first recognize the large plump birds, 33 of them I counted, perched in the tops of two tall sycamores, evidently enjoying their morning sun bath. But with a glass I soon recognized them as pigeons, saw the white crescent on the neck, and, as they flew, marked them as bandtails, from the bands on the broad square tails. This was one of the wandering, restless flocks which travel about during the winter, moving from one place to another as food or fancy leads them. Later I saw them flying down the arroyo in a detached flock high in the air. And almost daily for some time I saw more or less of them in the same arroyo on the outskirts of Pasadena. They remained in the vicinity off and on until the latter part of April.

This is one of the birds that was being rapidly killed off, as it was a favorite game bird in the Pacific Coast States. It was even verging toward extinction. But, fortunately, protection came in time to save it and it has made a wonderful recovery. E. A. Kitchin writes to me of conditions in Washington:

The Federal protection of these birds in recent years has made wondrous changes in the Puget Sound country, which always was a natural breeding ground. Before this protection the pigeons had become very scarce, so much so that it was even an event to see one, and these were only seen in the more isolated parts. The large gulches so numerous on Puget Sound, covered at the bottom by thick alder and on the sides by small flrs, form the natural breeding grounds for these birds. Now, thanks to Government protection, there is hardly a gulch that does not contain 50 or more pairs of breeding birds.

Courtship: The only note we have on the subject of the courtship of the bandtail is the following by Harry S. Swarth (1904):

During the breeding season the male bird is fond of sitting in some elevated position, usually the top of a tall dead pine, giving utterance, at frequent intervals, to a loud coo, more like the note of an owl than a pigeon, which can be beard at a considerable distance; while occasionally he launches himself into the air with wings and tail stiffly outspread, describes a large circle back to his starting point, uttering meanwhile a peculiar wheezing noise impossible of description. I had supposed that this noise was made by the outspread wings, but a male bird which Mr. Howard had in his possession for some time gave utterance to the same sound whenever angered or excited, evidently by means of his vocal organs, as we had ample opportunity of observing.

Nesting: Mr. Kitchin, who has had considerable experience with this pigeon in Washington, contributes the following:

The flocks arrive the latter part of March or early in April and at once seek the gulches, where they feed on the seeds of the alder. They apparently have a rather prolonged breeding season, lasting from April through June. The nesting sites are mainly in the dark fir trees, where their nest of dead fir twigs is placed near the trunk and generally in the lower branches, averaging probably 20 feet from the ground. Occasionally, however, the nest is found in an alder and sometimes on the top of a thick birch overhanging the hillside.

When approached the brooding bird has a habit of standing erect in the center of the nest and by doing so becomes very conspicuous. I have read of these birds carrying their egg when disturbed, and although I have flushed many birds none showed any inclination to take the egg with It. Knowing where an occupied nest was, I have approached quietly to perhaps 6 feet before the bird flushed, and at other times I have rushed, in a startling way, taking her by surprise, but in neither case was the egg removed. The nest is somewhat loosely made and entirely of dead twigs and, though it is not in any way cupshaped it certainly is saucershaped, and the roughness of the twigs prevents the egg from rolling in the nest. One can tell from below whether the nest contains an egg or a squab, as the brooding bird will stand in the center of the nest, astride the egg, while if a squab she will be standing on the rim.

The birds are fond of their old nesting sites and are insistent in using the site selected. They not only come back to the same tree but will use the same limb as that used the previous year, even if the first nest has been disturbed. On one occasion the bird selected a hanging bush on the hillside and built her nest near the top. The egg and nest were taken and she at once built another on the same site and raised her young. The following year she was again in the bush, sitting on a slightly incubated egg. This set I took, and by July she had another nest and egg, which were taken, and I was much surprised, in passing later in the season, to find a third nest in which she had probably raised her young to maturity.

Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) give the most comprehensive account available of the nesting habits of this bird in California, from which I quote as follows:

Nearly all authentic reports from California agree In stating that the Bandtailed Pigeon nests in trees: almost Invariably in black or golden oaks: at heights ranging from eight to thirty feet above the ground. As exceptions, LittleJohn (MS) found a nest in San Mateo County in a Douglas spruce; and in Maria County, J. Mailliard found a nest in a California lilac (Cean.o tAut thr$floru.) overhanging a steep slope. Some early reports from this State have mentioned ground nests, as have several more recent, but scarcely trustworthy, accounts from Oregon and Washington; but there is no late evidence of the ground nesting habit in California. In a general way the nest resembles that of the Mourning Dove, save that It Is considerably larger, and sometimes proportionately thicker. It is a crude structure, a mere pile of oak and other twigs, so loosely arranged that attempts to remove the mass often result In Its falling to pieces. The avernge diameter is six or eight Inches, while the thickness in two recorded Instances was one and four inches, respectively. Sometimes as few as sixteen or eighteen twigs are all that go to make up the nest and again there may be more than a hundred. The twigs range from a sixteenth to a quarter of an Inch in diameter and are of various lengths. They are laid across one another, with little or no weaving, forming a platform with numerous Interstitial spaces. A slight lining of pine needles was found in one nest. As Gilman well says, It is a marvel how an egg can be kept warm enough to hatch while resting on such an airy platform in the cool air of a high altitude. The nest site, which Is almost always on top of a large horizontal limb, seems to be so selected that the incubating bird may flush directly and rapidly from the nest when danger threatens.

There is some evidence to indicate that the band-tailed pigeon occasionally nests on the ground. Major Bendire (1892) quotes 0. B. Johnson, referring to Oregon, as saying: “They nest in various situations, much like the common Dove, Z. carolinensis. I found one of leaves and moss beside a tree, placed on the ground between two roots; another one upon an old stump that had been split and broken about 8 feet from the ground; another was in the top of a fir (A. grandi~s), and was built of twigs laid upon the dense flat limb of the tree, about 180 feet from the ground.” This statement, he says, is confirmed by Doctor Cooper, as follows: “In June they lay two white eggs, about the size of those of the house pigeon, on the ground, near streams or openings, and without constructing any nests.” A similar statement is made by Mrs. Irene G. Wheelock (1904).

Although the band-tailed pigeon usually nests in widely scattered pairs, the following account of an Arizona colony, by F. H. Fowler (1903), is interesting:

When the breeding season draws near, they betake themselves to sheltered places among the lower mountains, and nest In scattered communities, or as I have seen in several cases, a pair will nest apart from the others. One of the largest breeding communities I noted was In a littie pocket In the mountains, about five miles south of Fort Huachuca; this little place was at the head of a short canyon, and was Indeed an Ideal spot for birds, as It was well wooded and watered. Here a flock of about thirty-five pairs of band-tails nested in a scattered rookery, probably not averaging a nest to every three or four acres at the most thickly populated part; and a great majority of the nests were even farther apart than this. The nests In this colony were all placed on the forks of low horizontal limbs of live oaks usually not more than twelve feet up or less than nine, and In no case did I find more than one egg or squab In a nest. The nests were all of that very simple dove-like construction consisting of a few sticks placed on a fork of a branch.

Francis C. Willard (1916) made the following observations in the Huachuca Mountains, Ariz.:

There were a few pigeons nesting in the vicinity, and one pair near camp was watched quite closely from the time the nest was begun until the egg was laid. Nest building was carried on Only in the early morning hours, from sunrise till about 8 o’clock. Both birds were present, but the female alone seemed to be engaged in the actual construction of the nest, which she went about in a very lackadaisical manner. The pair would sit together on the few sticks already in place for many minutes; at last the female seemed to remember that she was nest building and flew up the mountain side followed by the male. Considerable time was spent on every trip after material, so very few sticks were added each day, and It was not until six days had elapsed that the flimsy platform was completed and the egg laid.

Eggs: Most authorities agree that this pigeon lays, almost invariably, oniy one egg; but there are a number of apparently authentic records of two eggs in a nest. The egg is elliptical ovate, generally somewhat pointed and pure white. The shell is smooth and slightly glossy. The measurements of 19 eggs average 39.7 by 27.9 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 43.5 by 30, 39.3 by 30.2, and 36.8 by 25.9 millimeters.

Young: According to Major Bendire (1892) the period of incubation is “from 18 to 20 days, both sexes assisting. The young grow rapidly, and are able to leave the nest when about a month old.” The nesting season is prolonged through 10 months of the year, and the evidence shows that probably several young are raised during the season. Clinton G. Abbott (1927) has published some notes from Albert E. Stillman, who had good opportunities for studying this species in San Diego County. In his notes for September 17, 1922, he writes:

That day the female left the oak tree in the early morning and returned at twilight; after quickly feeding the young she left again. Next day she left at daybreak and returned at sundown. For more than a week after that I kept the youngster with me during the day, letting him perch on my finger or hop about on the cabin floor, returning him to his nest before evening. On the morning of October 2 I found that the young bird had climbed from the nest and was sitting on a branch of the oak tree, where he remained until late in the afternoon. That night he roosted on the high limb of a nearby pine tree. On October 4 he left the neighborhood and I did not see him again.

That successive young pigeons are sometimes raised in one nest the same season was proved by Bushnell in 1925. He found a nest on March 8 containing one egg, from which the squab hatched and grew up. Then the pigeon laid an egg in the same nest and started to incubate. The second young bird hatched about the middle of May and lived to leave the nest.

Dr. Joseph Grinnell (1928a) watehed a pigeon feeding its young in the Yosemite region on September 29, 1927, of which he says:

Soon an old bird alighted, coming up the same steep course as the first one, at mid-height of the trees through the forest, and alighted on a branch of the nest tree, on a level with the nest but on nearly the opposite side of the trunk. After remaining perebed quietly for awhile, the old bird then walked along the branch lengthwise to the trunk, hopped across, fluttering some, to the base of the nest branch and walked out on it to the nest.

Immediately a commotion began: the young one fluttering its wings spasmodically, the old one, not plainly seen because of intervening foliage, evidently feeding it. The process lasted fully three minutes, when the old bird flew directly off from the nest, out Into space from a cliff base, and circling, was seen to alight at far distance on a middle branch of a dead tree. We would have timed the feeding process if we had had any notion of its lasting so long. After feeding, the youngster crouched down motionless and could be seen plainly no more. When being fed, its upraised, fluttering wings showed the quills to be only an inch or so long; it could have been no more than ten days old.

Mrs. Irene G. Wheelock (1904) says that the squab is “fed on a thin milky fluid, by regurgitation, for 20 days.”

Plumages: I never seen a nestling band-tailed pigeon, but Mrs. Wheelock (1904) says that its “yellow skin is covered with the sparse, cottony, white down.” The juvenal plumage is much like that of the adult, but it lacks the white collar and the iridescent metallic colors on the neck; the vinaceous tints are wholly lacking; and the feathers of the breast and wing coverts are narrowly edged with whitish, giving a slightly scaly effect. Molting birds are scarce in collections, but apparently young birds have a complete molt during the first fall, which produces a practically adult plumage. I have been unable to trace the molts of adults, but a complete molt probably occurs, as it does in European pigeons, during summer and fall; this may begin as early as May or June and end as late as October or November.

Food: Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) have published a very full account of the food of the band-tailed pigeon, from which I can include only a condensed summary. As their food consists mainly of nuts and berries, which are intermittent crops, the pigeons find it necessary to wander about considerably, congregating in large numbers where food is abundant and deserting these same localities during seasons of scarcity. Acorns seem to be their chief food; probably all the oaks are patronized, but mainly the live oaks, golden oak, and black oak; the acorn crop lasts through a long season in fall and winter. The acorns are swallowed whole and form an attractive food supply in the fall. They resort at times to the applelike fruits of certain species of mauzanita, eating them from the time they are first formed and green until late in fall, when they are fully ripe. Early in the fall they feed on the fruit of the coffeeberry, elderberry, and chokecherry. In winter they have the toyon, or Christmasberry, and when the nut and fruit crops become exhausted they feed on the flower and leaf buds of the same plants, such as manzanita and oak buds. Early in spring sycamore balls are fre quently eaten; as many as 35 have been counted in the crop of one pigeon. Fruits of dogwood, wild peas, pine seeds, and other seeds have been found in their crops. Considerable cultivated grain is eaten; this is mainly waste grain, picked up in stubble fields of barley, oats, and corn; but pigeons have been known to do some damage by pulling up newly sown seed barley; such records are scarce,however. P. A. Taverner (1926) says that in western Canada, “they are especially partial to peas and are said to pull up the sprouting seeds. The flocks so engaged are described as being numerous enough to turn the colour of the fields they alight upon from brown to blue. As they are large birds, each one intent on filling a capacious crop, their power for damage is not small. In the autumn they alight on the stooked grain and may take a considerable toll of it.”

Other observers have noted in their food hazel, pinyon and other nuts, wild grapes, wild cherries, wild mulberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, juniper, cascara, salmon and salal berries, and grasshoppers and other insects. Their method of feeding on manzanita berries is thus described by Laurence M. Huey (1913):

Some boys there told me that for the past two weeks a bunch of about one hundre(l pigeons had been feeding on green manzanita berries In a near-by thicket, and I was much pleased when they offered to take me to the place. It proved to be about one and one-half miles north of their ranch, due south of Voican Mountain, and was the only thicket thereabout having a large crop of berries. In the morning the birds would begin to arrive a little after sunrise, leaving between eight and nine o’clock; in the evening they returned about four and stnyed until dark. They seemed always to come from and return to the same place, at the top of Volcan Mountain among the pine trees.

The pigeons seen were apparently always the same bunch, as one bird noted with a fe~v secondaries missing on the left wing was seen on three out of four occasions when the flock was encountered. It was Interesting to watch them trying to alight on the clusters of berries, far too weak to support them, making many futile attempts and finally succeeding in reaching the berries only by settling on a stronger perch and then walking out to the cluster. But how they did gorge and stuff when they finally got at them.

Mr. Willard (1916) writes:

A few days later a flock was observed feeding on acorns in a group of large oak trees (Queroa.s emoryi). The antics of these birds were more like the acrobatic stunts of parrots than of pigeons. They would walk out on the slender branches till they tipped down, then, hanging by their feet, would secure en acorn and drop off to alight on a branch lower down. In spite of their large size, pigeons are surprisingly inconspicuous when thus engaged in feeding among the leaves.

M. French Gilman (1903) says of their feeding habits in the grainfields:

In March, 1901, great flocks of the pigeons poured Into San Gorgonlo Pass and fed in the barley fields. For about two weeks there were hundreds of them but they all left as suddenly as they had appeared. Their method of feeding was peculiar. Instead of spreading out they kept together, alternately walklug and flying. Those behind would fly a few feet ahead of the advance line, alight, and walk along picking up grain until other rear ones would fly ahead and It came their turn again. In this way the flock advanced, some in the air all the time and ground was covered quite rapidly.

Behavior: Except during the nesting season, band-tailed pigeons are decidedly gregarious, flying about in large, open, or scattered flocks, formerly in flocks of hundreds, but now more often in flocks of dozens. They are fond of perching for long periods in the tops of tall trees; in the leafless sycamores in winter the flocks are very conspicuous, but among the thick foliage of live oaks or eucalyptus they are well hidden. If approached too closely, they will begin to leave, a few birds at a time, with loud flapping of wings, and there are usually a few laggards that slip away from some unseen spot at the last moment. Their flight is strong, direct, and very swift, reminding one of domestic pigeons. According to Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918), “in passage down a mountain side, the flight is inconceivably swift, the wings being held close in to the sides, beating only at long intervals, and the body veering slightly from side to side in its arrow-like course. This headlong flight produces a rushing noise as of escaping steam.”

Voice: The cooing notes of the band-tailed pigeon are much like those of the domestic pigeon. Doctor Grinnell (1905) says that “their deep monotonous coo’-coo, coo’-coo, coo’-coo, or tuck-oo’, tuck-oo’ was a frequent sound on Mount Pinos.” Mrs. Florence M. Bailey (1902) writes:

If you follow the pigeons to their breeding-grounds in some remote canyon you will be struck by the owl-like hooting that fills the place, and you will locate the sound here and there along the sides of the canyon at dead treetops, in each of which a solitary male is sunning himself, at intervals puffing out his breast and hooting. The hooting varies considerably. Sometimes it is a calm ivhoo-whoo-hoo, wkoo’-koo-lioo, and others a spirited lLoop’-ah-whoo’, and again a two syllabled w1&oo’-t~g1L, made up of a short hard hoot and a long coo, as if the hreath was sharply expelled for the first note and drawn in for the second.

The method of uttering the notes is described in detail by Joseph H. Wales (1926) as follows:

When the male pigeon starts this performance he usually maneuvers around for a firm footing and perhaps opens his bill slightly once or twice. Next he stretches his neck out in a line parallel with the axis of his body, and bends his head down to a right angle. With his hill open a crack he gives one gasp which ifils out the skin of his neck until about three times natural size, and at the same time utters a very faint oo which is not usually audible over twenty feet. All of these are preliminary actions, as directly following the first sound comes the ~ckoo-oo. This hoot is made by a quick expelling of the air from the bird’s lungs, and is accompanied by a slight downward push which seems to give abruptness to the first note. The swelled neck skin is not reduced, as the bill Is opened and the lungs are refilled for the following coo. There are usually about seven or eight of these hoots In a series, but sometimes as many as eleven. When finished, the male pigeon brings his neck back Into its natural position and allows the air to escape from under the neck skin. This performance Is repeated at irregular intervals through the early morning and the latter part of the afternoon.

Fall: Illustrating the heavy fall flights that formerly occurred in California, W. Leon Dawson (1923) writes:

In the fall and winter of 1911: 12, lured by an unusual crop of acorns, and impelled, no doubt, by corresponding “crop” failures elsewhere, immense numbers of Band-tailed Pigeons appeared in the Interior valleys of Santa Barbars County, centering about the town of Los Olivos. It Is probable that practically the entire summer population of California north of the Tehachipe, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia concentrated at this point. It is not surprising, therefore, that ‘ïmillions” of birds should have been reported in this section, although half a million would probably be much nearer the truth. What followed on this occasion was a humiliatIng example of what human cupidity, callousness, and ignorance, when unrestrained, will accomplish toward the destruction of birds. Reports of the birds’ abundance spread rapidly. The “Wild Pigeon” of the East had unexpectedly turned up In the West. Hunters from the outside flocked to the scene. Every gun was put Into commission. By automobiles and trainloads they came. The country was aroar with gunfire. The ammunition business jumped In a dozen towns. Enterprising dealers organized shipments to the San Francisco and other markets. W. Lee Chambers, writing for The Condor, reports a Sunday excursion of hunters from San Luls Obispo which brought home 1,560 birds. Another man, hunting for the San Francisco market, killed 280 pIgeons under one oak in one day. The stupid birds, knowing nothing of their offense, flew miserably from one part of the valley to another, but would not, or could not, forsake their food. How great the destruction of that winter really was Is a matter of merest conjecture, but it must have been a very sensible proportion, possibly more than half the entire species. I passed through this section of the country on the 1st of the following April and saw only 25 pigeons, but the sides of the road in many places were so covered with paper waste from cartridge boxes that I was reminded of a street in Chinatown on the morning after New Year’s. Fortunately, this destruction and the agitation which ensued prompted the Government to declare a five-year closed season on Band-tailed Pigeons.

Game: Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) say:

The value of the Band-tailed Pigeon as a true game bird is to be conceded without argument. Its pursuit is of a different type from that offered by any other game species. An anonymous writer in southern California, who signs himself “Stiilhunter,” says that the best place for hunting pigeons there is near a dead tree where the birds are known to alight. For such a situation he advises using a .22 or 25: 20 rifle then single birds may be secured without frightening away others In the flock. For sneaking up on birds a “duck gun,, is recommended. Ten pigeons are considered a good day’s hag. If the flesh has become “strong” by reason of the birds’ acorn diet, soaking in brine flavored with vinegar or lemon wlU remove the disagreeable taste. After such treatment the birds should be broiled, or baked in a pot pie.

Enemies: Band-tailed pigeons apparently have few natural enemies, and these have proved of little consequence in reducing their numbers. In spite of their slow rate of increase they could hold their own against natural’ enemies, but they could not long resist the terrible slaughter by man when congregated in their winter quarters. Fortunately, they are now protected against this.

Mr. Willard (1916) says that in Arizona “the Prairie Falcon and Cooper Hawk take considerable toll from the flocks. These two terrors of the air will dash into a tree and grab a pigeon off a branch, rarely making an unsuccessful raid. The Prairie Falcon is the chief offender.” Mr. Kitchin tells me that, in Washington, “apparently the only enemy these birds have during the breeding season is the local gray squirrel’, which I know on more than one occasion has taken possession of the nest, using it as a foundation and adding to it to suit himself, and once I found the egg of the pigeon buried under the structure that the squirrel had added.”

Winter: Grinnell, Bryant, and Storer (1918) say that: north of the northern boundary of California the Band-tailed Pigeon is wholly migratory. It seems inevitable that this northern-bred contIngent should move south into California for the winter season, and there is, therefore, little reason to doubt the inference that the birds which concentrate in winter in westcentral and southern California, represent the entire pigeon population of the Pacific coast region. If this be true, it is of course apparent that, as far as the whole Pacific coast region is concerned, California alone is, in winter, responsible for the existence of the species.

Range: British Columbia, the Western United States, and Central America.

Breeding range: The breeding range of the band-tailed pigeon extends north to southwestern British Columbia (Courtenay and Chulliwack). East to British Columbia (Chilliwack); Washington (Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, and Kalama); Oregon (Beaverton); northeastern California (Lyonsville and Stirling City); Colorado (Estes Park and the Wet Mountains); New Mexico (Tres Piedras, Pecos Baldy, Sandia Mountains, Capitan Mountains, Sacramento Mountains, and Guadalupe Mountains); western Texas (Dog Canyon, Fort Davis, Marfa, and Chisos Mountains); and Puebla (Las Vegas). South to Puebla (Las Vegas); Durango (Otmapa Ranch); and Lower California (Cape San Lucas). West to Lower California (Cape San Lucas, Victoria Mountains, and El Sauz); California (Laguna Mountains, Cuyamaca Mountains, Pine Mountain, San Jacinto Mountains, Mount Wilson, Mount Pinos, Lopez Canyon, San Jose, Lagunitas, Gualala, Eureka, and Crescent City); Oregon (Lookingglass, Newport, and Astoria); Washington (Granville, La Push, and Neah Bay); and southwestern British Columbia (Lake Cowichan and Courtenay).

Winter range: In winter the species occurs regularly north to California (East Park and Alta) ; Arizona (Salt River Bird Reservation); and southern New Mexico (Haut Creek). East to New Mexico (H~iut Creek and Silver City); and Guatemala (Volcano Toliman). South to Guatemala (Volcano Toliman); Chiapas (Pinabete); and Lower California (Mount Mirafiores). West to Lower California (Mount Mirafiores, El Sauz, La Laguna, Pierce Ranch, and Guadalupe Valley); and California (El Cajon, Los Angeles, Carpentaria, Fremont Peak, and East Park).

The range above described is for the entire species and is occupied chiefly by the typical race, Columba f. fasciata. Viosca’s pigeon (Coluonba f. vioscae) is confined to southern Lower California and is apparently nonmigratory.

Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: Colorado, Beulah, May ‘1, Moraine Hill, May 25, and Gold Hill, June 2; Oregon, Mercer, March 5, Corvallis, March 14, Beaverton, April 4, Southerlin, April 8, North Bend, April 10, and Tillamook, April 14; Washington, Clallam Bay, April 9, Menlo, April 12, Vancouver, April 17, and Everett, April 26; and British Columbia, Courtenay, March 31, Sumas, April 4, Burrard Inlet, April 5, Chilliwack, April 13, and Hastings, April 26.

Fall migration: Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia, Courtenay, October 5, and Chilliwack, October 29; Washington, Fort Steilacoom, September 25, Clallam Bay, October 15, Argyle, October 20, and Cascades of the Columbia, October 29; Oregon, Forest Grove, October 3, Tillamook, October 10, North Bend, October 24, and Newport, October 28; and Colorado, Ouray, September 8, Del Norte, September 20, and Forks of the Rio Grande, September 26.

A vertical migration from the higher mountains in California also is occasionally noted (Escondido, 1920).

Casual records: Band-tailed pigeons are rarely taken outside of their normal range. Patch (1922) noted them at Tow Hill, Graham Island, of the Queen Charlotte Group, on July 28, 1919, and states that there is one record from Bella Coola, British Columbia, indicating that they may at times breed farther north than is now known. One was taken in 1905 near Crescent, Okia., and another on June 2, 1912, at Englevale, N. Dak.

Egg dates: Washington and Oregon: 6 records, May 3 to July 12. California: 46 records, March 6 to September 24; 23 records, May 10 to July 1. Arizona and New Mexico: 32 records, April 23 to October 4; 16 records, June 16 to July 14. Southern Lower California: 35 records, January 22 to December 26; 18 records, June 21 to July 28.

VIOSCA’S PIGEON [Current A.O.U. = Band-tailed Pigeon]


This pale race of the band-tailed pigeon was described by William Brewster (1888), based on a study of a series of more than 100 specimens collected in southern Lower California and named in honor of Mr. Viosca, the United States consul at La Paz. He gives it the following characters: “Similar to C. fasc-iata but with the tail band wanting or only faintly indicated, the general coloring lighter and more uniform, the vinaceous tints, especially on the head, neck, and breast, much fainter and more or less replaced by bluish ash.”

As to its distribution (1902), he says:

This pigeon seems to be strictly confined to the Cape Region, for neither Mr. Bryant nor Mr. Anthony has succeeded in finding it in the central or northern portions of the Peninsula where true feeciata is also apparently wanting.

Chester C. Lamb (1926) writes:

The Viosca Pigeon is, with one exception, known to occur only in the Victoria Mountains, sometimes known as the Sierra de la Laguna, or in the adjacent foothills. The exception is Brewster’s statement that Mr. Frazar saw large numhers in San Jose del Caho in September “passing southward.” During my own txvo years’ residence in the Cape district, however, this bird was not seen outside the mountainous district above indicated. I very much doubt the pigeons leaving Lower California at all, as implied by Brewster on Frazar’s report.

I became acquainted with the Viosca Pigeon July 5, 1923, when I made my first trip to the Laguna Mountains, and in the next month found them abundant. The following year parts of four months were spent in their range, and I had ample opportunity to study and observe this isolated race of pigeon. It was common throughout the mountains, ranging from an altitude of 1,500 feet to the tops, some 6500 feet. At the lower levels the birds are found in the canyons, where wild grapes and another native fruit grow; but the type of country they like best, and their real home, is the live-oak region of the higher valleys and canyons. These birds are swift and powerful fliers and it would itot take them long to travel for their food, either to the pinyon pines above or to the wild grapes and figs below, whenever they might wish to vary their acorn diet.

Nesting: The nesting season is very variable or very much prolonged. Reliable observers have found this pigeon nesting in January, February, Apri], May, June, July, August, September, and December. Mr. Lamb (1926) says of its nesting sites:

The majority of the numerous nests I examined were in live-oak trees, usually situated on the forks of the larger horizontal limbs, and placed from 10 to 20 feet above the ground. Some nests were also found placed among the smaller branches and near their extremities, but this was exceptIonal. A very few nests were found in a small species of white-oak tree that grows on the hillsides. This oak is peculiar in that in the dry season the leaves turn brown and appear dead, but a few days after the first rain, the leaves gradually grow green again.

There are a few pine trees, mostly pinyons, scattered among the oaks in some parts, but only in one instance did I find a pigeon’s nest in a pine. This was a well built nest six feet above the ground, against the trunk where a horizontal limb grew out. One nest was found on a frond of a leaning fan palm tree. The nest Is as a rule carelessly made, of a few coarse twigs, with no nest lining.

A nest collected for me by W. W. Brown, in the Sierra de la Laguna, on June 14, 1913, containing one egg, was described as a frail platform-like structure of sticks, built near the extremity of a branch, in a pine tree about 40 feet from the ground. An egg in the United States National Museum, taken by M. A. Frazar, near Pearce’s ranch, on July 18, 1887, was presented by Mr. Brewster; it was taken from a nest composed of a few sticks, 18 feet up, on a broken upright branch of a giant cactus.

Eggs: One egg seems to be the almost invariable rule with Viosca’s pigeon. If two eggs are ever laid, it must be very rarely, for in more than 25 nests examined by Mr. Lamb and 8 or 10 by Mr. Brown, only one egg or young was found. The egg is pure white, like that of the band-tailed pigeon. The measurements of 25 eggs average 39.7 by 27.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 43.2 by 28.5, 41.4 by 29, 36.7 by 26.9, and 38.1 by 26.4 millimeters.

Food: Mr. Lamb (1926) says: “Acorns, wild grapes, pinyon nuts, and a sort of wild fig were, in my experience, their only food in the summer.”

Behavior: Again Lamb writes:

At one of my camps in the Victoria Mountains, my work table was placed directly under a large live-oak tree which bore an abundant crop of acorns. This was a great attraction to the pigeons as well as to numerous Narrowfronted Acorn-storing Woodpeckers. It was a marvel to me how such a large bird as a pigeon could alight In this tree, even on its slenderest branches, without the least audible flapping of its wings; often I would be unaware of a pigeon’s presence until it was made known to me by the woodpeckers. The pigeons and woodpeckers, it appears, are inherent enemies. Let a pigeon alight in this tree, and if a woodpecker Is near-by, the latter immediately, with loud cries, sets upon and drives the pigeon away, which departs with a great flapping of wings. In no case have I seen a pigeon try to defend itself, and one was never seen to take the part of the aggressor. When attacked, a pigeon flies to a near-by tree and often, as soon as the woodpecker’s back is turned, so to speak, the pigeon is back again in the oak tree, only to have the same thing happen again. It is lucky for the pigeons that woodpeckers are not always on guard, else they would get but few acorns.

Yoke. Again he writes:

The first bird voices one hears in the early morning in the live-oak region are those of the Narrow-fronted Woodpeckers, closely followed by the Viosca Pigeons, whose mellow whoo-whoo (first note short, second long and slightly lower) sounds almost human, ~s if someone were trying to attract attention. From the specimens taken I learned it was only the males that make this sound. At this time the birds perch upon some dead or bare limb, usually at some elevation. They are frequently seen fluttering spirally with short wing-beats or sailing slowly over some clearing, and then an entirely different note Is uttered, at short intervals, hard to describe, but which could he called a sort of hoarse, guttural croak, sounded for a sustained period.

Fall: Brewster (1902) says:

At San J05~ del Caho large flocks were observed in September passing southward. Mr. Frazar believes that the majority left Lower California that season before winter set in, although he saw a few on November 15 along the road between San J05~ and Miraflores and others at San ~fos~ del Rancho December 18-25. None were found on the Sierra de la Laguna between November 27 and December 2.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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