I've always enjoyed watching how the world of birds changes as we move into the warmer spring months (finally!). First off well back in April the Turkey Vultures came back for their annual summer stay in the area. Then I started seeing the Varied Thrushes slowly start to disappear as they headed back to the forested elevations a bit further away from the lowest valley areas. Suddenly Black-headed Grosbeaks showed up. Then one of the more fascinating large birds made their annual visit and still are hanging around here at our place, the Band-tailed Pigeons.
Unlike the tame pigeons found in city parks, our native Band-tailed Pigeon is a very shy bird and will avoid human contact wherever possible. They can roam alone but most often move in flocks of up to 50 birds! I always am in awe of the sight of 8, 12, or even sometimes 20 individuals booming off from our trees or feeders at the first sign of our presence. Their wings bang together to form a loud chorus of 'clapping' as they launch to the sky. They are very nomadic creatures as they move frequently in search of food. They typically will move over 20 miles daily and once they have found a persistent food source they will hit it hard and stick around. With seeds being one of their preferred foods (along with nuts, berries, and a few insects) this is an obvious story to follow once they have declared our sunflower feeding stations as a good food source. Mid-morning a single bird will come in...then a few more...and more...and suddenly we have 15-18 of them knocking each other off the feeders and the party is underway! Any quick motion on our part and poof: they are gone. But they have been known to empty a 12 lb stockpile of seeds over the course of two feeding visits during a single day!
While this habit of feeding can be hard on the birdseed budget, these birds are a special sight to have present. The purplish-grey upper body and head is almost an unreal color! This color combined with their yellow bill and legs is striking and adults have a thin white band on the back of the neck. And as its name implies, the Band-tailed Pigeon has a black band across its tail feathers. They also have many rather uncommon traits within the bird world. Only a single white egg is laid each year and only in very rare cases will there be two. One trick that I find fascinating about them is that unlike most birds, including other pigeon species, the Band-tailed pigeon is able to drink water without raising its head. It took me many years of observing them before I noted this!
Now, just yesterday we noted a visit by a stunning male Western Tanager, with its bright yellow body and orange head clearly one of the most beautiful song birds that might occasionally pass by on the west side of the Cascades! What will pay a visit next? I’ll keep my eyes open and I hope you do also – share what might be going on out there!
(photo: Band-tailed Pigeon resting on the bent branch of a western red cedar tree)