|A chunky body, white ring on nape and yellow bill and feet help distinguish the band-tailed pigeon from other species. Photo by J.J. Meyer|
Roger DuPlessis has recorded 53 different bird species that have visited his back yard since he began birding about 22 years ago.
“Not bad for a little 30-by-30 foot yard in residential Irvine,” DuPlessis said.
Of all his avian visitors, his favorite is the band-tailed pigeon. It’s also one of the largest birds that have visited his yard. Though they’ve been scarce lately, he said “five came like clockwork every morning and evening last spring and summer.” The group included three adults and two juveniles.
He still tosses seed on the ground for them daily in hope they’ll return.
Though band-tailed pigeons are larger than most feeder birds and often travel in flocks, they’re not recognized as a threat so the smaller birds are not scared off, he said.
These large pigeons can measure up to 15.7 inches in length, which is slightly larger than a rock pigeon, but smaller than an American crow. They have stocky bodies with small heads; long, rounded tails with a wide pale band at the tip; pointed wings; a dark-tipped yellow bill and yellow feet and legs. Though their plumage is pale gray overall, a purplish sheen is noticeable on the head and breast. A narrow, white band on its neck is absent in juveniles. They resemble rock pigeons in flight.
Though related, band-tailed pigeons are easy to distinguish from mourning doves because of their size. Band-tailed pigeons are from the family Columbidae, which includes doves and pigeons. They are strong, fast fliers, and tend to travel in large flocks in search of nuts, fruits, and seeds on the ground and in trees. Their call is a slow one- or two-syllable coo, which can sound somewhat like an owl.
These birds can be found in oak or oak-conifer woodlands in the Southwest, but are becoming increasingly common in suburban residential areas. They are year-round residents in California. Band-tailed pigeons that breed along the northern Pacific coast usually migrate to central California or farther south in the fall, while most individuals from the Southwest move south of the Mexican border.
Band-tailed pigeons are occasionally referred to as the “blue rock,” because of the blue-gray hue of its back and its resemblance to the closely related rock pigeon. The two species are similar in size, posture, movements and behavior. While the rock pigeon is a widespread introduced species, the band-tailed pigeon is native to western North America.
Band-tailed pigeons are attracted to berry bushes and fruit trees. You can attract them to your yard by tossing white millet or sunflower chips on the ground. These birds can be somewhat skittish around people.