18 May 2014

Wild Pigeon of California - Ectopistes Migratoria

The wild pigeon of the Pacific coast differs from its prototype, the passenger pigeon of the Atlantic States, only in being a larger bird, with a darker plumage. It is equally migratory in its habits, but never seen collectively in such large numbers as characterize the assemblages and migrations of the passenger pigeon in other parts of the world. A few hundreds at most, being as many as are ever seen together for any length of time in one place.

They are found in the foothills and lower mountains of the Sierra Nevada and Coast Range, principally in Autumn, at the season of the ripening of the madrone berries. Their food consisting of berries, the seeds of weeds and grasses, and grains. The California pigeon is remarkable for its symmetry of form, the extreme rapidity of its flight.

It propels itself by quickly repeated flappings of the wings, bringing these at ties closely to the body with firm strokes, and, before alighting, breaks the force of its flight by several rapid beats, as though fearing injury from coming too suddenly into contact with the object upon which it may desire to rest.

The male of this species has the throat, breast and sides brownish red; sometimes with a purplish tint, under parts of the body pale slate color or bluish white. Head blue; hind part and sides of neck changing to gold, green and bright crimson. Upper part of body blue; wing coverts marked with black spots; quills dark slate, almost black; tail feathers dark brown and blue. The female has a similar distribution of colors, but very much duller than the male.

The eastern pigeon, though not possessing the strength, size or weight of the California bird, is nevertheless capable of moving through the air at a rate of a mile a minute; and it has been killed in New York with its crop yet filled with rice collected from the fields of Georgia or South Carolina, which it must have left only five or six hours before. We say only, because as they digest their food rapidly, they must necessarily have travelled the distance within the time allowed, in order to have arrived with the rice still in its perfect, unsoftened state.

The shape of their body is oval, with a sharp pointed tail, admirably constructed for rapid evolutions, and also furnished with a pair of long wings, moved with large and powerful muscles. The rapidity with which this bird will pass through a wood is perfectly astonishing, threading its way among the closely-grown branches with unerring course, it flashes upon the sight like a meteor, and if gone from our gaze.

The flesh of the California pigeon is dark, but its juices are rich, and by many is much liked. The young, or squabs, as they are termed, are very tender and delicate, and much more esteemed as food than the adult birds. They generally select the tallest trees they can find to breed in, and as many as a hundred nests are often seen on a single tree. The conduct of the male at this time is much like that of the domestic pigeon, elevating and depressing the body, swelling out the throat, and expanding the tail, he moves around the timorous female, uttering the soft coo-coo-coo, so familiar to everybody who has ever been near a dovecote. They lay only two eggs, elliptical in form and pure white. They pigeon never nests at any great distance from water, to which it resorts several times during the day, and when it drinks immerses it bill up to the eyes, and remains until its thirst is satisfied.

May 4, 1872. Pacific Rural Press 3(18): 1. With an illustration.