A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Our largest pigeon-like bird. Easily separated from Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) by its larger size, broad, squared-off tail and grayer hue (Mourning Dove is brownish and has a distinctive pointed tail). Band-tailed Pigeon may look like a city pigeon (Rock Dove) but is noticeably larger. If you can get a close look at a Band-tailed Pigeon, note the yellow-orange bill tipped with black, the greenish-bronze patch at the back of the neck and the white "collar" above the patch (a hint of the collar is just visible in the photo here). Legs are yellow-orange. Band-tailed Pigeon is the only dove common here that has yellow legs and a yellow bill. Wings grey, breast and neck a pale lavender-grey. In flight, look for the broad, pale band at the end of the fan-like tail. Unfortunately, Band-tailed Pigeons are usually seen high up in the sky, flying swiftly in small groups, which rarely allows close looks at field marks. A large pigeon-like bird with a tail band (as described above) seen flying over a wooded area (rather than in a town) is likely to be a Band-tailed Pigeon in Sonoma County. That said, once in a while small flocks will stop high in trees, affording good views.  

Eats fruits, grains, seeds, but especially fond of acorns. The Band-tailed Pigeon has made a comeback from near-extinction because of over-hunting. Hunting was banned between 1913 and 1932 (Burridge, Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995), allowing numbers to recover, but the birds may be hunted legally today, in season. Little-known fact: Pigeons and doves are the only North American birds that can drink using suction. Most birds have to scoop water up and then tilt their heads back to drink. These birds are also among the few that initially feed young using crop milk, a secretion of the lining of the crop. According to Wikipedia, other birds known to produce crop milk to feed their young include flamingoes and penguins. Recently assigned to the genus Patagioenas. Older sources will call this bird Columba fasciata.

Selected county sightings: Arroyo Sierra Dr. (Feb 8, 2013, Colin Talcroft); Hood Mountain (Feb 5 2013, Gene Hunn); Sugarloaf Ridge State Park (Jan 30, 2013, Gene Hunn); Shiloh Ranch Regional Park (Dec 18, 2012, Doug Shaw); Tolay Lake Regional Park (Oct 10, 2012, Larry Broderick); Bodega Rail Ponds (Sep 27, 2012, Doug Shaw); Spring Lake (Sep 18, 2012, Ruth Rudesill); Pine Flat Rd. (Jul 12, 2012, Doug Shaw); Ragle Ranch Park (Feb 4, 2012, Colin Talcroft); Ragle Ranch Park (Jan 31, 2012, Doug Shaw); Tolay Lake Regional Park (Oct 13, 2011, Peter Colasanti)

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 69

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 240

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 75

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 242

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 264

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 311-312

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 270

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 199

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 224

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 194

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 206

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 208

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 220

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 379

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 192

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Band-tailed Pigeon




© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Band-tailed Pigeon, Ragle Ranch Park, November 14, 2011

Band-tailed Pigeon

Patagioenas fasciata

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated June 5, 2013

EBird reported  occurrence in Sonoma County