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Band-tailed Pigeon: Identification and Overview

May 10, 2023

The Band-tailed Pigeon is a unique and often overlooked species of bird found in the forests and woodlands of western North America. As the largest native pigeon in the region, it plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of the ecosystems it inhabits. This educational blog will provide an in-depth look at the Band-tailed Pigeon, discussing its size and shape, color pattern, behavior, habitat, interesting facts, ecosystem services, and the importance of conservation efforts aimed at preserving this remarkable bird.

Size and Shape

The Band-tailed Pigeon is a large and stocky bird, with an adult size typically ranging from 12 to 16 inches in length and a wingspan of 22 to 25 inches. It has a relatively long tail, which often appears squared or slightly rounded at the tip. The bird's head is relatively small compared to its body, and its neck is thick and muscular.

When perched or in flight, the Band-tailed Pigeon's wings appear broad and rounded, with the wingtips slightly pointed. These features enable the bird to fly swiftly and maneuver easily through the dense forest environments it inhabits. The Band-tailed Pigeon's legs are short and sturdy, with strong feet that allow it to grasp branches and forage on the ground.

Color Pattern

The Band-tailed Pigeon has a subdued, but elegant color pattern that helps it blend in with its surroundings. Adult birds typically have a soft bluish-gray head, neck, and breast, with the neck area often showing a beautiful iridescent green or purple sheen. The back and upper wing surfaces are a darker gray, while the belly and vent are a paler gray.

A key identifying feature of the Band-tailed Pigeon is the white crescent or collar on the back of its neck, contrasting with the dark feathers around it. The bird's tail is also distinctive, with a broad, pale gray band near the tip, which gives the species its common name. The bill is yellow, and the eyes are surrounded by a noticeable patch of bare, bright yellow skin.


Band-tailed Pigeons are social birds, often found in flocks, especially during the non-breeding season. They are primarily arboreal, spending much of their time in trees, where they forage for fruits, seeds, and other plant materials. In the breeding season, they may also feed on insects and other invertebrates to meet their increased nutritional needs.

These pigeons have a distinctive flight pattern, characterized by bursts of rapid wingbeats followed by short glides. They can be quite elusive and difficult to observe, as they prefer to remain hidden in the forest canopy. However, their deep, guttural cooing calls can often be heard echoing through the woods, providing a clue to their presence.

During the breeding season, male Band-tailed Pigeons perform elaborate courtship displays, which include puffing out their neck feathers, bowing, and making repeated cooing calls. Both parents share in the duties of nest-building, incubation, and feeding the young, which are fed a special secretion called "pigeon milk."


The Band-tailed Pigeon is found in a variety of forest and woodland habitats across western North America, from the coastal rainforests of Alaska and British Columbia, through the mountain forests of the western United States, and down into the pine-oak woodlands of Mexico. It typically prefers areas with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, where it can find a diverse array of food resources.

During the breeding season, Band-tailed Pigeons may be found at higher elevations, often nesting in mature coniferous forests. In the winter months, they may descend to lower elevations in search of food, sometimes even visiting suburban areas with fruiting trees and bird feeders.

The availability of suitable nesting sites and food resources, such as fruiting trees and shrubs, are critical factors influencing the distribution and abundance of Band-tailed Pigeons. Habitat loss and fragmentation, resulting from logging and urban development, can have a significant impact on the species' survival and reproductive success.


  1. Band-tailed Pigeons are one of the few bird species that are capable of drinking water by suction, rather than scooping water into their bills and tilting their heads back to swallow.
  2. The Band-tailed Pigeon is the closest living relative of the extinct Passenger Pigeon, which was once the most abundant bird species in North America before being hunted to extinction in the early 20th century.
  3. Band-tailed Pigeons are known to travel long distances in search of food, sometimes covering more than 60 miles in a single day.
  4. While Band-tailed Pigeons are not considered to be threatened or endangered, their populations have experienced significant declines in some parts of their range due to habitat loss and overhunting.
  5. Band-tailed Pigeons are monogamous, forming long-lasting pair bonds that may last for several breeding seasons or even for life.

Ecosystem Services

As primarily frugivorous birds, Band-tailed Pigeons play an essential role in the ecosystems they inhabit by dispersing seeds from the fruits they consume. This process contributes to the regeneration and health of forests, as well as maintaining the diversity of plant species within their habitat.

Additionally, Band-tailed Pigeons serve as prey for various predators, such as birds of prey, mammals, and reptiles, which in turn helps maintain a balanced food web within the ecosystem. Their nesting habits also create opportunities for other cavity-nesting bird species to use the abandoned nests in subsequent years.


The Band-tailed Pigeon is a fascinating and important species within the forest ecosystems of western North America. Its distinctive appearance, elusive nature, and intriguing behaviors make it a captivating subject for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike. By understanding and appreciating the role that Band-tailed Pigeons play in their environment, we can better appreciate the interconnectedness of all species and the importance of conserving natural habitats for future generations.