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A photo of a White-headed Pigeon (Columba leucomela), male
White-headed Pigeon, Male

White-headed Pigeon

Columba leucomela

The White-headed Pigeon, Columba leucomela, is a striking bird with a pure white head, neck, breast, and belly. The male's plumage is adorned with slate grey wings and tail, while the upperparts boast a grey black hue with a shimmer of green or purple iridescence. The bill, a delicate pink to dark red, is tipped with a splash of yellow or white, and the legs and feet are a soft pink to red. Females are similar but with a less vibrant white. Juveniles echo the females' tones but with a greyer head and darker grey underparts, and their feet, legs, and bills are greyer, though the bill retains its white tip. These birds are medium-sized, measuring 38–42 cm from beak to tail and weighing approximately 420 g.

Identification Tips

To identify the White-headed Pigeon, look for the distinctive white head and underparts, contrasted with grey to black upperparts with a metallic sheen. The red eye ring and legs, along with pale orange or yellow eyes, are also key features. The bill's pink to red coloration with a yellow or white tip is quite unique among pigeons.

Habitat

The White-headed Pigeon is found in a variety of habitats along the east coast of Australia, from Cooktown in Queensland to southern New South Wales, and now increasingly in eastern Victoria. It thrives in tropical and subtropical rainforests, scrublands, along watercourses, and even among urban street trees.

Distribution

This species is native to the east coast of Australia, with a distribution range extending from Cooktown, Queensland, to southern New South Wales, and now venturing into eastern Victoria.

Behaviour

White-headed Pigeons are often solitary, or seen in pairs or small flocks. They are known for their quiet and elusive nature. Their flight is characterized as swift and direct, a marvel to observe as they navigate through their arboreal habitats.

Song & Calls

The call of the White-headed Pigeon is a loud and gruff "WHOO!" followed by a gruff inhalation sounding "uk," which is typically repeated three times. At times, they may also emit a low "oom," resonating through the forest.

Breeding

The breeding season for these pigeons is primarily from October to December. Their nests are rather simple structures, made of scanty twigs and placed high in the canopy, sometimes up to 18 metres. They tend to lay a single cream-white egg.

Diet and Feeding

The White-headed Pigeon's diet is predominantly fruits and seeds. It has a particular fondness for the fruit of the invasive Camphor laurel, which it consumes throughout the year. These pigeons feed in the tree canopies, either alone or in small groups, and occasionally on the ground. When feasting on Camphor laurels, they may congregate in larger groups, sometimes numbering up to 100.

Conservation status

With a broad range and an increasing population, the White-headed Pigeon is currently classified as a species of Least Concern. Its adaptability to thrive on introduced plant species like the Camphor laurel has contributed to its stable status.

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