July 2018: Native Pigeons


There have been some interesting changes in distribution of pigeons along the East Coast in recent decades. This Target survey will contribute to our understanding of how these changes are progressing.

The Far South Coast has few of the colourful rainforest-dwelling fruit-eating pigeons found in tropical and subtropical Australia.  However, we have at least six year-round resident native pigeons, two introduced species and two seasonal visitors, as well as the occasional vagrant of more northern species. 


Pigeon Species and Where to Look for Them


Crested Pigeon and White-Headed Pigeon

Both of these native species will most commonly be encountered in towns. They could be seen feeding on the ground or perched on powerlines.


Wonga Pigeon

This native species forages on the ground, usually in wetter forest types and gullies. It is unlikely to be seen in towns.


Common and Brush Bronzewing Pigeons

These two native species are also ground-dwellers but tend to be seen in drier forest and scrub. 
They are less commonly seen in towns.


Peaceful Dove

The small native species is relatively uncommon in the region and occurs in various forested and semi-cleared habitats, venturing into gardens and feeding on the ground.


Brown Cuckoo-Dove and Topknot Pigeon

These two “rainforest pigeons” are seasonal visitors in search of native fruits and are unlikely to be recorded in winter.  They are most likely to be seen in wetter forest with fruiting trees and shrubs.  The two species have long tails and a more upright stance, unlike the ground-dwellers.


Rare, vagrant pigeons

Any sightings of the rarer vagrant species would of course be doubly welcome, so photos of anything that looks like a pigeon even if it doesn’t appear to be any of those mentioned here should be reported.


What Might Look Similar

The dumpy, full-chested, short-legged shape of pigeons is generally fairly distinctive, and all the local species also have reddish legs and feet, a feature not shared by many other birds.

Two introduced pigeon species, the Domestic Pigeon and the Spotted Turtle-Dove are found in the Atlas region. These could be confused with the native pigeon species.


What to Record

Number of individuals, where they were feeding or perching (if this is not obvious from the photo).

What to Photograph

A good side view is best for identification, preferably of the whole bird – overall shape can be as important as specific features close up. Distinguishing between the two Bronzewing species can be challenging. It requires a close look at the markings on the head, so try to capture this in your photos if possible.

Now simply upload your sightings!

All sightings are recorded on the Atlas of Life NatureMapr database. This is a powerful, easy to use system that you can access from a computer or a mobile device. 

Changes in Pigeon Distribution with Time

Some interesting changes in pigeon distribution have occurred in recent decades. 

The White-headed Pigeon only began to be recorded in Bega Valley Shire in 1996 and records have increased since then, with it now having double the number of records in NatureMapr as the next most common species, the Wonga Pigeon.  This may be partly because it seems to prefer living in towns, making it easier to detect and photograph.  A Field Guide published in 1972 gives its distribution as Cape York to Illawarra, while one published 40 years later says Cooktown to about Eden, with vagrants extending well into Victoria. 

The Crested Pigeon was an even earlier arrival, having expanded to the coast from inland, possibly after the severe drought of the late 1970s.  The 1972 Field Guide excludes coastal NSW from its distribution and a Canberra field guide from 1969 calls it a vagrant to the ACT.  It is now a common resident throughout south-east NSW, favouring cleared areas.


Other Resources

Any good bird field guide book.  The locally produced “Looking at Birds on the Far South Coast NSW” illustrates all the native species mentioned above (pages 12-15) and the two introduced species (p. 128), but excludes the more northern species which might turn up as vagrants.

This website provides both photos and recordings of the calls of many birds including all the pigeons found in our area: http://www.graemechapman.com.au/library/index.php

Calls can be helpful in identifying pigeons, or at least in alerting you to their presence if they are not sitting in plain sight.

Images of all the species mentioned here are also available on the Atlas of Life website: https://atlasoflife.naturemapr.org/Community/CategoryGuide/180



If you have any questions about this survey, or about any Atlas of Life activities, please feel free to contact us.


LEADER: Jackie Miles

Paul Whitington