Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A band-tailed pigeon photographed at Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose, California
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Band-Tailed Pigeon

­­The large, heavily built gray pigeon frequents the forests and woodlands of the West; most often seen in flocks of varying sizes in rapid flight. Wings make a loud clapping sound when flushed. Polytypic. Length 14.5".


Larger, with a longer tail than a rock pigeon; blue-gray on the upper parts with contrasting blackish gray flight feathers; a blackish gray tail with a broad, pale gray terminal band. Paler-gray greater coverts show as a broad wing stripe when in flight. Adult male: gray on the head, and breast tinged pinkish; narrow white half-collar across the upper hind neck, with iridescent greenish below. Iris pale yellow; narrow orbital skin purplish; bill yellow with a black tip; and feet yellow. Adult female: like male, but pink color somewhat subdued, and with less iridescent green. Juvenile: paler than the adults, with narrow whitish fringes on the breast and coverts; half-collar reduced or obscured.

Geographic Variation

At least 8 subspecies. Nominate fasciata breeds in the Southwest from Utah and Colorado south into Mexico; and monilis breeds in the Pacific states from British Columbia, uncommonly in southeast Alaska, to Baja California, Mexico. Subspecies are not separable in the field.

Similar Species

Rock pigeons have blackish tails; most have black markings on the wings and conspicuous white rumps; at close quarters the bill lacks yellow; and the feet are reddish rather than yellow.


Call: a low-pitched whoo-whoo delivered several times.

Status and Distribution

Locally common in low-altitude coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest, and in oak or oak-conifer woodlands in the Southwest; presence dependent on availability of food; increasingly common in suburban gardens and parks. Breeding: nest is a platform of twigs lined with grasses placed in a tree well above the ground; bears 1 white egg. Migration and winter: most birds breeding in the Southwest winter in Mexico, and most breeding in the Pacific Northwest move south into California in winter. Vagrant: casual across southern Canada east to Nova Scotia and New England; also along the Gulf Coast from Texas to western Florida.


Pacific population formerly threatened by overhunting, but with the introduction of controls, population is recovering.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006