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The Band-tailed Pigeon
As California's only native pigeon and a close relative of the extinct passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), the band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) is a treasured wildlife species in California.
There are two recognized subspecies of this iconic bird in the United States; the Pacific Coast subspecies (P.f. monilis), which we have here in California and whose range also includes British Colombia, Washington, Oregon and Baja California, and the Interior or Four Corners subspecies (P.f. fasciata) which breeds in Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado and winters in Mexico.
2012/2013 Upland Game Bird Stamp Art Contest winning entry
by artist Clemente Guzman of Lockhart, Texas, (CDFW photo by Debra Hamilton)
The Pacific coast population of band-tailed pigeons has experienced long term population declines. From 1968 to present, the North American Breeding Bird Survey trend has demonstrated a 2% per year decline.
Band-tailed pigeon populations may be negatively affected by forest management practices aimed at maximizing conifer production. While these birds use conifers for nesting habitat, they rely heavily on fruiting shrubs and hardwoods for food during the breeding season. In addition, oak woodland habitat has significantly declined throughout California, resulting from agriculture and urban sprawl. Band-tailed pigeons use these ecosystems as wintering habitat, where they rely on acorns for food.
Band-tailed pigeon populations also are impacted by a low reproductive rate. While band-tailed pigeons can breed up to three times a year when weather and food conditions are favorable, they often produce just one chick per year.
Another major conservation concern faced by this iconic species is the disease Trichomonosis. During periodic winter die-offs, large numbers of individuals (at times in the thousands) fall victim to this disease. In work spearheaded by the CDFW's Wildlife Investigations Laboratory, historical accounts of this disease, and its geographic prevalence have been analyzed and results are forthcoming.
Trends in band-tailed pigeon population and harvest are monitored through several efforts, usually as collaborations between the USFWS, CDFW and the public. These efforts include the Mineral Site Survey, the Harvest Information Program (which includes the Parts Collection Survey) and the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The results of these surveys are compiled into an annual population status report produced by the USFWS. Further, because California has periodic Trichomonosis mortality events, CDFW actively monitors harvested birds for the presence of T. gallinae and solicits reports from biologists, rehab centers and the public of mortality events.
The Mineral Site Survey: Pacific coast band-tailed pigeons regularly use mineral springs. The reasons for this behavior are likely related to the supplementation of dietary sodium but this remains an area of active research (more information here).
Beginning in 2001, the US Geological Survey formalized a survey protocol involving these mineral springs. The surveys are a collaborative effort lead by CDFW with support from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Geological Survey.
Results of this survey are used to inform the band-tailed pigeon harvest management framework, which can be found in the Pacific Flyway Management Plan for the Pacific Coast Population of Band-tailed Pigeons.
Coast band-tailed pigeon Mineral Site Survey Index from 2004 through 2012. Data from Sanders et al. 2013.
- Harvest Information Program: The Harvest Information Program (HIP) is a USFWS program conducts surveys of hunters to estimate the harvest of migratory birds.
- Parts collection survey: A secondary component of HIP is the Parts Collection Survey (PCS). A subset of hunters identified in the HIP survey as active hunters of a given species are requested to return one wing from each bird harvested. From these wings, biologists are able to get an understanding of the age distribution of the harvested birds.
- North American Breeding Bird Survey: The Breeding Bird Survey is an avian monitoring program administered by the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, the Canadian Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Research Center. It is the best source of long term, large scale data currently available.
The band-tailed pigeon is primarily a migratory species but there are resident groups that likely occur throughout their range and especially in Southern California. Migratory individuals breed and nest in the coniferous forests from northern California into Oregon, Washington, and British Colombia. During the winter, migratory birds comingle with resident populations in central and southern California.
During the spring and summer, these birds feed on fruit producing shrubs of early seral stage forests. During the fall and winter, diets shift to include a greater proportion of acorns, which sustain the birds until trees come out of dormancy and new buds become an important food source.
Hunting Pacific Coast Band-tailed Pigeons
The band-tailed pigeon is classified as a migratory upland game bird. In California, there are two 9-day seasons that are split temporally and geographically (September - northern zone, December - southern zone). The bag limit for Band-tailed pigeons is 2 and the possession limit is 6. California upland game bird regulations can be found online here.
In Oregon and Washington, the season matches that of the northern California zone, as do the bag limits. As in California, the Oregon possession limit is 6 while Washington has maintained a possession limit of 4.
For general information about band-tailed pigeons, contact CDFW state-wide band-tailed pigeon coordinator Levi Souza at Levi.Souza@wildlife.ca.gov or (916) 445-3709
To report sick or dead band-tailed pigeons or other birds, contact CDFW's avian disease biologist Krysta Rogers at Krystra.Rogers@wildlife.ca.gov or (916) 358-1662
For more information on the management and conservation of the band-tailed pigeon, please enjoy the following links:
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology - band-tailed pigeon
- Pacific Flyway Management Plan for the Pacific Coast Population of Band-tailed Pigeons
- US Fish and Wildlife Service Band-tailed Pigeon Population Status 2013
- US Forest Service Band-tailed Pigeon species account
- Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies report on priority information needs for Band-tailed pigeons
This section is still under construction.