When I first began coming to the Long Beach Peninsula in the 1970s one of my bucket list birds was the band-tailed pigeon. It wasn’t until I bought a place and began to spend as much time as I could on the Peninsula that I was finally able to cross the band-tailed pigeon off my bucket list.
I searched for a few years though before I finally saw the bird! My first sighting was on the north end of the peninsula on Stackpole Road. I had been told that the north end was one of the best places to see it. It looks like it still is. Dan and Sharron Luckey report that they have been seeing the band-tailed on and off since April. At one point, there were 16 of them at their feeders. A few weeks ago, a few juveniles showed up for a tasty lunch. In the last year or so I was hearing and seeing them almost daily in the woods along Stackpole Road.
Band-tailed pigeons are birds of the forest and native to western North America, unlike their non-native urban cousin, the rock pigeon. Their favorite foods are raspberries, cherries, blackberries and elderberries. They also enjoy seeds, the flowers of some plants and insects. Their young do not get to feast on these delicacies, but rather on “crop milk” secreted from the lining of the adult’s esophagus. The band-tailed is an uncommon species on the peninsula. It is with us in every season but winter and is a nester. It may raise several broods due its unique ability to feed its young because it does not have to rely on the environment for the provision of food for its young.
Band-tailed pigeons are not always easy to see because they prefer the upper canopy of the forest. In addition, the band-tailed flies so swiftly that it is often gone before it registers as a band-tailed pigeon in the mind’s eye. While it is fast in the air, it is rather slow when on the ground. At first glance it seems to be overweight, but scientists indicate that in actual fact, it isn’t fat, but is made of heavy muscle, which accounts for its ability to fly extremely fast and for long distances.
The band-tailed pigeons are large, about the size of a crow, and dressed in soft gray or gray-blue plumage with a crescent of white on the neck. Juveniles lack the white crescent. Adults also have greenish scaly-looking feathers on the back of their necks. Their bills are deep yellow in color with a black tip, and their feet are bright yellow. They have a very long tail which has a pale gray wide band at the end. This feature along with black wing tips are often good field marks when looking up into the canopy. It may be all you see!
If you hear a softish owl-like hooting call, quickly scan the forest canopy. You may at least see the long tail and/or the black wing tips. You may be successful in enticing them to come in close if you make grain seeds, cracked corn, or white millet part of the menu offered at your feeder. Yard plantings could also play a role in bringing the band-tailed pigeon into view. If the band-tailed pigeon is on your bucket list give the north end of the peninsula a try, like I did!
”Common Birds of the Long Beach Peninsula,” by Kalbach and Stauffer, is available from Bay Avenue Gallery, Time Enough Books and the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau.