Dear Readers, let’s see how well you did on your pigeons. I featured all five of the species that can be seen in the UK, but I’ve only been fortunate enough to see four.
These come in all colours, shapes and sizes, but the red eye is diagnostic (unless it’s surrounded by a big halo of red skin, in which case see (5). The ones in the photo are pretty close to the wild type, which has two dark wing bars and a white rump.
This rather attractive dove is more common than you might think: you can tell it from the woodpigeon by its soft, dark eyes, and the lack of a white patch on the neck. It’s also smaller, but not so much as you would normally notice. It’s a bird of woodland, and nests in hollow trees: I’ve found it regularly in Coldfall Wood, around the corner from me.
The biggest of the pigeons, this bird has a white, slightly manic-looking eye, a white patch on its neck and a very visible white band on its wings in flight. It also has a splendid display flight where it soars into the sky, claps its wings and then zooms down again, as if on an invisible roller coaster.
Delicately-coloured in shades of taupe and grey, this slender dove has a single line of black edged with white on its neck. The photo shows the splendid tail, which is black at the base but with a fringe of white around two grey feathers in the centre. This bird has increased greatly in numbers over the past twenty years, probably moving into the vacated sites of the fast-disappearing turtle dove (see below)
A bird that is gradually being lost: it was a summer visitor who fed at the woodland edge and in hedgerows, and is dependent on weed seeds, particularly those of fumitory, black medick, red and white clover, common vetch and birds foot trefoil. All these plants are being squeezed out of most farmland, and as we know, hedgerows are often replaced with barbed wire fences, which are easier to maintain. Plus, the turtle dove passes over Malta (where migrating birds are still shot). The bird of ‘the Twelve Days of Christmas’ may soon no longer be present in the country where the song originated. The charity ‘Operation Turtle Dove’ is doing its best to conserve the species, and jolly good luck to them too.
And now to the songs. Always tricky, but I have added in a few mnemonics to help.
6. This is a woodpigeon. In my Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, it’s suggested that the call sounds like ‘my TOE BLEEDS Betty’, and it’s certainly a five-syllable call, with lots of emphasis on the second and third syllables. I have one local bird who repeats this pattern three times and then sticks an extra ‘word’ on at the end. The call is particularly fine when heard down a chimney.
7. This is a bunch of feral pigeons. The actual call is, I’m sure, a male doing his little ‘whirligig’ dance to impress a female. I particularly like the wing claps as they all take off.
8. This is a turtle dove. The call is supposed to sound like ‘turrr-turrr’, and the bird is named for its call, rather than any resemblance to a marine reptile. The call reminds me of an old-fashioned ‘ringing’ tone on a telephone, but I bet most of you are Far Too Young to remember such things.
9. This is a stock dove, which has the most unassuming call of all the pigeons, to go along with its generally placid and gentle nature. The call is basically a series of ‘ooo’ sounds, but, as the Crossley guide puts it, it’s ‘a soft sound from the treetops very easily missed in bird chorus’.
10. And this is a collared dove. The first sound is the ‘landing call’, which sounds to me a bit like a kazoo. The normal call is a quite fast three-note cooing: Crossley says that it’s in the rhythm of ‘U-NIII-ted’ and I think that’s just about right. See what you think.
So, that’s pigeons done. Next week I’m going to have a look at the crow family. All those black birds! Let’s see how we get on.