Sunday, 13 April 2008

Crested pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes)

Crested pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes) seem to be doing very well in SE Australia. Not that long ago, they were an uncommon sight in Melbourne — in the inner city, at least — but now they are abundant in parks and gardens all over town. They pick through the lawn for grass seeds and scuttle away like wind-up toys when anyone gets too close. When they fly, their feathers make a whistling sound, more musical than the usual wing clatter of pigeons. On landing, the bird swings its tail up, almost over its head, looking for all the world as if it's about to over-balance. Crested pigeons are engaging birds.


John George Wood — the man who pushed sleeping frogmouths off their perches — was apparently enchanted by them.
    The little crested pigeon, although not so conspicuous as some of its relations, is one of the most elegant in form and pleasing in colour among this tribe ...
He waxed (almost) lyrical about their plumage.
    The head, face, and most of the under portions are pearl grey, the long slender crest being jetty black, and the sides of the neck tinged slightly with pink. The back of the neck, the back, flanks, and both tail-coverts are light brown ; the feathers at the insertion of the wing are buff, crossed with black nearer their tips, and the great coverts are shining bronze green edged with white. The primary feathers of the wing are brovn, some partially edged with brownish white, and the rest with pure white. The secondaries are brown in their inner webs, and their outer webs are bronzy purple at the base, tipped with brown, and edged with white. The two central feathers of the tail are brown, the rest are blackish brown, with a green gloss on their outer webs and tipped with white. The bill is olive black, deepening at the tip, the feet are pink, and the eye orange set in a pink orbit.
Robert O'Hara Burke wasn't so enchanted with their appearance but he did find a use for them — as providers of prosthetic tails for carrier pigeons on that expedition.
    This afternoon got the pigeons in order of flying. Their tails being rubbed down by travelling so far in a cage, I got the tails from several crested pigeons, and inserted feathers in the stumps of our carriers, fastening the splices with waxed thread. The plan answered far better than I had expected, and the birds can now fly about the aviary we have made of a tent with the greatest ease.
If only he had applied that lateral thinking to the rest of the journey, it might have had a different ending ...

7 comments:

Dave Coulter said...

Interesting birds! I liked the part about splicing the tail feathers. Now THAT'S a lost art.
Speaking of waxing poetic - this winter I had a pair of mourning doves feeding at my windowsill. One was kind of sleepy and I noticed that it had light blue eyelids!

Snail said...

There's always something a bit flashy about even the most subtle-coloured pigeons!

Sherryl said...

Love your bird photos - the new camera is obviously worth spending the time and money on!
How far away were you when you took these pigeon photos?

Snail said...

I was pretty close to this pigeon --- about 5 metres. For most of the others the distance was much greater.

Anonymous said...

at my house the wild crested pigeons eat out of my hand even though they're not in a cage or anything
i named them...
toppy and noppy!

Anonymous said...

i have some crested pigeons at my house and they eat out of my hand and his name is Timmy i am related to the person who wrote the comment above

Anonymous said...

"scuttle away like wind-up toys when anyone gets too close"

Great poetic description!