White-crowned Pigeon

Patagioenas leucocephala

(c) Jeanette Hobbs
  • COLUMBIDAE
  • Pigeons, Doves
  • Columbiformes
  • Paloma corona blanca
  • Pigeon à courone blanche
Introduction
This Caribbean species is known for its skittishness, but has become accustomed to humans in certain developed areas where it is drawn to food sources. White-crowned Pigeons have a particularly long nesting season in years when food is abundant, nesting up to four times in a single year.
Appearance Description
Slightly larger than the familiar city pigeon, the White-crowned Pigeon is about 13.5 inches in length, with a wingspan of 24 inches. Adults weigh about 10 ounces. Adult plumage is uniformly dark gray, with the exception of the white-crowned head. The crown ranges from brilliant white in males, to a grayish white in females. In good lighting, a handsome, iridescent green to yellowish collar appears on the nape of adult birds. Bright white irises are also apparent. Juvenile birds have a brownish gray crown and darker eyes. All ages have a pink-based, yellow-tipped bill, and bright pink feet.
Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution
Within the United States, White-crowned Pigeons are found exclusively in extreme southern mainland Florida and the Florida Keys. The species is also found throughout the Bahamas, across the Greater Antilles from Cuba to Puerto Rico, and in the northern Lesser Antilles from the Virgin Islands south to Guadeloupe. They occur sporadically along the Caribbean coast from Mexico to Panama.
 
A legend for the range map to the right can be found here.
Habitat
Two distinct habitats are critical for White-crowned Pigeons. While they usually breed on isolated coastal or island mangroves, they require forested areas with fruit-bearing trees for feeding. Island-nesting White-crowned Pigeons often make long, over-water flights to feed within inland hardwood forests; for example, birds that nest on half the islands within Florida Bay make daily flights from there to the mainland or Florida Keys to forage.
Feeding
The White-crowned Pigeon is frugivorous, feeding almost entirely on a wide array of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs. While foraging, it is surprisingly nimble as it clambers about the outermost branches of the treetops, stretching, bracing itself with extended wings, or even hanging upside down to reach ripened fruits. The pigeons respond opportunistically to food sources, wandering far and wide in search of new feeding areas, even basing the timing and length of their breeding season upon crop availability. Preferred foods include the fruits of poisonwood, blolly, fig, royal palm, strongbark, and pigeon plum. Seeds and insects are also eaten occasionally, though the White-crowned Pigeon is rarely observed foraging on the ground.
Reproduction
Depending on the location and the availability of food, the often-prolonged breeding season can occur anytime between March and October, although May through September is more typical. Males call and display to attract a mate. Once paired, the pair begins nest construction, with the female arranging materials supplied by the male. Once completed, two white eggs are laid and incubated in turn by both parents for about two weeks. Males incubate the eggs by day, with the female taking over at night. Once hatched, the young pigeons, or squabs, are fed "crop milk" by the adult birds for the first few days. As the young develop, fruit becomes an increasingly important part of their diet. Parent White-crowned Pigeons may travel up to 50 km daily to reach a favored feeding location. Young White-crowned Pigeons generally fledge about three weeks after hatching, and are fed and tended to by the parents for up to three weeks beyond fledging. Pairs that re-nest may begin laying their next clutch of eggs while still tending their first set of chicks.
Migration
Migration patterns, like breeding habits, are often influenced by the availability of fruit crops. The White-crowned Pigeon is a semi-nomadic species; it is often difficult to determine whether certain populations are merely shifting in response to crop availability, or undergoing a true migration. In general, the birds are considered short-distance migrants, particularly in the northern parts of their range.
  • 550,000
  • 27,500
  • Severe population decline; high threats; restricted range
Population Status Trends
While stable in many areas, this species is suffering from habitat loss and declining in numbers across its range. Many large, traditional nesting colonies no longer exist. In Florida, the White-crowned Pigeon is listed as "threatened." However, White-crowned Pigeons have benefited from recent bans on hunting and other protections, and are faring well in certain areas, most notably Jamaica and Florida.
Conservation Issues
Over the past century and a half, White-crowned Pigeons have been extirpated from many areas where they were formerly common. Since a ban on hunting was imposed early in the 20th century, their numbers have stabilized, but are still below historic levels. In Florida, the main threat today is loss of habitat on both nesting and feeding grounds. Florida's Conservation and Recreational Lands program has targeted all remaining White-crowned Pigeon habitat greater than five hectares for acquisition and protection. Where critical habitat has been preserved, the pigeons have responded well.
 
Habitat loss is also a major threat across the White-crowned Pigeon's entire Caribbean range. Destruction of habitat has driven the species from many historically productive breeding areas, particularly in Haiti and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In other Caribbean areas, White-crowned Pigeons are a popular game bird, and populations have been drastically reduced. Numbers have improved in the Bahamas, where bag limits have been imposed and the hunting season has been shifted so as to not coincide with the pigeons' breeding season.
 
In areas where it is unaccustomed to human activity, nesting White-crowned Pigeons are shy and easily disturbed, readily abandoning their eggs and young upon intrusion. In past decades, rampant spraying of pesticides in the Florida Keys proved deadly to the species, but this problem has decreased with the recent advent of more enlightened pest control tactics. Pesticide use remains a considerable threat on many Caribbean islands.  
What You Can Do
The White-crowned Pigeon depends on the availability of native fruit-bearing plants. In the Florida Keys, important food sources such as blolly, strongbark, and poisonwood are often removed from residential areas. Take Audubon At Home's Healthy Yard Pledge, and learn more about how to maintain a healthy environment for local wildlife.
 
Support efforts to protect Florida's coastal bird habitats, especially mangrove forests.
 
For more actions you can take, including Audubon activities, please visit our resources page.
More Information
Visit our resources page for more information about this species.
Natural History References
Bancroft, G. T., and R. Bowman. 2001. White-crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala) In The Birds of North America, No. 596 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, January 6. Florida's breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida's birdlife. www.myfwc.com/bba (Accessed 10/15/2006).
 
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1996.
Conservation Status References
Bancroft, G. T., and R. Bowman. 2001. White-crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala) In The Birds of North America, No. 596 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
 
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, January 6. Florida's breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida's birdlife. www.myfwc.com/bba (Accessed 10/15/2006).
 
Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1996.