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Rare, But Not Unheard Of 

Our band-tailed pigeon


There I was, checking my email, as I do every morning, when up pops one from my good friend and fellow airman down the road, Sage Dorsey.

(Every once in a while, Sage will strap me into the back seat of his beautiful Bellanca Scout and we'll fly out over forest and rimrock looking for new Golden Eagle nests: like the one I thought I saw out near Brooks Lake on the Great Sandy Desert.)

Well, Sage announced he had a band-tailed pigeon in his backyard, three of them as a matter-of-fact. Now, Old Jim, being the wise and knowledgeable naturalist that he is, responded with a know-it-all note suggesting Sage had mistaken the band-tailed for our current pestiferous alien, the Asian Collard Dove.

Sage patiently responded that he knew the band-tailed from years of hunting them as a kid in SW Oregon, and upon reading that comment, I said to myself, "Uh, oh; foot-in-mouth-disease has struck Old Jim again."

About four days later, my wife, Sue, and I had supper over at Mary Smith's home near Cascade Estates, and after dessert (of deee-licious berry pie and ice cream) she said, "Hey, come over here and see the bird photos I shot yesterday in my backyard." Yep, you guessed it; three beautiful portraits of band-tailed pigeons.

So, the title of this piece, "Our Band-tailed Pigeons" means exactly that; they have been discovered in the Sisters Country where I live. Now the question is, where else have they been seen?

I sent an email to my expert birder pals, Tom Crabtree and Chuck Gates, to see what they had to say. Tom wanted to know how many and where, and said, "Nice picture. Is it still around?  They aren't real common unless you are near the crest of the Cascades. I'd say we average a couple of reports a year."

Chuck Gates said, "Deschutes Band-tails are pretty rare. About 20 records going back to the ' 60s. What was the date of this sighting? They will sometimes hang around a while if they are coming to a feeder."

Now it's your turn. Please keep your eyes open if you have a bird feeder. Or, if you're a hiker, take a good look at Mary's splendid photograph and let me know if you see them at your home, the park, or anywhere else in Central Oregon. (I'll buy you a milkshake if you have a valid report, you can reach me at

The band-tailed pigeon, scientific name, Patagioenas fasciata, is a medium-sized pigeon found throughout western US, British Columbia, Washington, California and Southern Arizona. It can also be found — much to my surprise — in the higher elevations of Mexico and Central America all the way to northern Argentina.

With its scientific name, Patagionas, one would think it was named by someone from Patagonia, but as it turns out, the bird was first described by Thomas Say, a pioneering American naturalist who is widely considered the father of descriptive entomology in the U.S. He was collecting insects in the Rocky Mountains in 1824, spotted the big, beautiful pigeon, named it for science, and published the account in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Band-tails are heavily built, and could be mistaken for a Rock Dove (domestic pigeon) except for its woodland or mountain habitat and greater tendency to alight in trees instead of bridges, houses and begging for handouts in parks. The clincher is the broad pale band across the end of the fan-like tail. At close range, they show a white (NOT black) crescent on nape, the feet are bright yellow, and the bill is also yellow, but with a dark tip.

In late summer it migrates out of Oregon into northern California, New Mexico and parts of Utah and Colorado. One of their prime foods are acorns (which may be why we don't see them around here too often.)

They're present all year in some areas, especially on the Pacific Coast, but mainly summer residents elsewhere, including the northwestern coast and southwestern interior. Often nomadic, flocks concentrate where food supplies are good. Strays have reached the Atlantic Coast.

It is the biggest pigeon in North America, measuring 13 to 16 inches long and weighing in at about 225–515 grams, and the coastal subspecies is larger than the inland bunch. In Mary's photo you can see the plumage is a general gray, somewhat darker above. The head and underparts have a faint pink cast, especially in the adult male, and the belly is nearly white.

The distal half of the tail is also pale while the bill and feet are yellow, good identification marks at sufficiently close range. Adults have green iridescence on the back of the neck, adjacent to a thin white collar on the nape. I've underlined the collar, as the invasive Asian Collared dove has a black collar in the same place.

They are relatively quiet for a pigeon; the voice is low-pitched and almost owl-like, often in two-syllable calls that rise and then fall (huu-ooh) with even spacing between each call.

Like all pigeons, it builds a rudimentary platform nest out of twigs, in which it lays one or two eggs. Outside the breeding season it forms flocks, sometimes over 50 birds, and often becomes nomadic, following the acorn crop or moving to lower altitudes or other areas outside its breeding range. Sage thought they were blown here in the last big wind storm we had, and I tend to agree with him. After all, he obviously knows a lot more about band-tailed pigeons than I do...

And here's an interesting little tidbit of knowledge that reflects the resiliency of parasites. The parasitic louse, Columbicola extinctus — believed to have become extinct with the destruction of the ill-fated passenger pigeon, was recently rediscovered on band-tailed pigeons. The band-tailed pigeon is the closest genetic relative of the Passenger Pigeon and is being looked at for some kind of genetic investigations in efforts to bring back that extinct pigeon species.

Thank you, Sarge, Mary, Tom and Chuck for opening my eyes and poor old brain to the possibility of seeing more of these beautiful pigeons in Central Oregon. Perhaps if we planted acorn trees in Riverside and Drake Park and in our backyards they might come and chase off those invasive Asian collard doves.


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