Monday, 15 April 2013

Week 17: Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus)

The woodpigeon was @SpeciesofUK from 31st March to 6th April 2013.

The woodpigeon is a member of the Columbidae family, which contains all 310 species of doves and pigeons.

[Wikimedia Commons © Nick Fraser]

The woodpigeon appears right across the UK and according to RSPB data is our seventh most common bird.[1] In fact, it’s such a common sight now that in 2005 it even topped the BTO’s list of the UK’s most commonly seen birds.[2]

Flock of Woodpigeons
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Pig Sty Avenue]

Doves and Pigeons

Doves and pigeons, or Columbidae, are stout birds with short necks and short, slender bills. The words 'dove' and 'pigeon' are used interchangeably in species names, although the smaller species tend to be called doves and larger species pigeons.[3]

The woodpigeon is one of five Columbidae species in the UK. The four others are...

1. The rock dove (or feral pigeon). A handful of ancestral wild rock doves are still found on UK coasts.[4]

Rock Dove
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Nick Turland]

2. The stock dove. Similar to the rock dove. Has an attractive iridescent green band on the back of the neck, black edges to the wing and unlike the rock dove does not have a pale rump.[5]

Stock Dove
[Flickr Creative Commons © jim.gifford]

3. The collared dove. Pinky-grey colour with distinctive black band on the neck and monotonous cooing.[6]

Collared Dove
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Edwyn Anderton]

4. The turtle dove. A dainty dove with a gentle purr. A summer visitor to the UK.[7]

Turtle Dove
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons  © Gary Huston]

Identification of the Woodpigeon

Woodpigeons are grey with a mauve-pink breast and white patches on the neck and wings. The flashes of white on the wings are clearly visible in flight.[8]

[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © SteveInLeighton]

Woodpigeon in Flight
[Source: Wikimedia Commons © Axel Mauruszat]

The woodpigeon eyes are greenish white to pale golden, with a narrow grey eye-ring.[9] The bill is pinkish-red at base and yellow at tip, with a white operculum (the fleshy mass near the bill’s base that is common to all doves and pigeons).[10]

Woodpigeon Profile
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Andy Morffew]

The woodpigeon neck though is the real highlight of this bird. The iridescent purple/green feathers are sublime.

Woodpigeon Iridescences
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © stuant63]

The female is similar but with smaller white neck patches and a duller breast.

The juvenile woodpigeon is duller and paler with a pale rusty breast. It lacks the neck patches and iridescences and its eyes are darker, mostly grey with a yellow tinge.[11]

Juvenile Woodpigeon
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Spookygonk]


The woodpigeon is responsible for two of the most common sounds heard in UK woodlands today...

The first is its lovely soft coo-ing which has to be one of the easiest bird sounds to learn and one of the most beautiful.

The second is the often heard loud clatter of its wings as it takes off or loses control moving along branches.

The woodpigeon eats buds, shoots, seeds, nuts and berries. It also enjoys taking crops like grain or peas.[12] As well as plant matter, the woodpigeon also takes invertebrates such as earthworms, beetles, pupae, spiders, slugs and snails.[13]

Woodpigeon Foraging for Crops
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons ©]

The woodpigeon tends to be shy in the UK countryside but has become tamer where it appears in towns.[14]


Woodpigeon courting is a typical behaviour to see during Spring in the UK and is fascinating to watch.

The male woodpigeon first conducts a display flight, climbing rapidly, clapping his wings, and then gliding down in an arc. It’s repeated 2 or 3 times.[15]

He then conducts an extraordinary bowing display close to the female and fans his tail. This makes the most of his beautiful neck iridescences.

Finally, the courting woodpigeons will neck and preen each other.

Woodpigeon Preening
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © ᚛Tilly Mint ᚜]

The woodpigeon nest is a platform made from twigs and built by both sexes in a tree or on a building.[16] The first clutch is laid in April and there can be 1-2 broods.

Woodpigeon with Young
[Source: Wikimedia Commons © Tjpayne]

Woodpigeon Nestlings
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © nottsexminer]

Woodpigeons and People

Woodpigeons are considered an agricultural pest bird due to their fondness for eating crops such as grain.[17]  They have also long been a popular bird for sporting shooting.[18]

As a result, woodpigeon are commonly shot. UK law authorises shooting for preventing damage to crops and for public health or safety.[19]

More recently, woodpigeon has become increasingly popular as an eating bird, frequently appearing on the menus of high-end restaurants. It is seen as a sustainable, locally sourced meat.[20]

Woodpigeon Served in a Mayfair Restaurant
[Source: Flickr Creative Commons © Ewan-M]

Strange but true…

People often think that feral pigeons are one of the UK’s most common birds. In fact, according to RSPB data, there are as many three times as many woodpigeons as feral pigeons in the UK.

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