Urban wildlife

Pretty pigeons on the trash heap

As ‘Melbourne kids’ we'd squeal with delight on road trips to our grandparents house whenever we spotted top-notch pigeons balancing precariously on the power lines.

They’re always there. Sitting. Waiting. Watching nervously as the distance between you and them decreases, inch by inch, bit by bit, calculating the precise moment you breach the invisible line. The ‘too close’ line. And off they scuttle.

crested pigeon_jim bendon
Jim Bendon – Flickr

We used to call them “top-notch” pigeons. This family nickname almost certainly originated from 12-year-old me – an insufferable know it all – misinterpreting species descriptions from my wildlife books. In my defence, my books were always more than 30 years old and didn’t always have pictures. As it happens, the Top Knot pigeon is an entirely different kettle of…pigeon. But, as I saw it, my little brother and sister (and all those within earshot) still needed to be educated on the identity of every wild animal we saw. As far as I was concerned, the Crested Pigeon fit the bill.

As ‘Melbourne kids’ we’d squeal with delight on road trips to our grandparents house whenever we spotted top-notch pigeons balancing precariously on the power lines. To us, these predominantly grey birds (pigeons of all things) were wild and exotic, with their their little black crests and splashes green and purple across the wings. They swayed awkwardly as if at any moment they might topple off the tightrope. But of course they never did. We didn’t normally see top-notch pigeons, and for us they were a tell-tale sign that we were nearly at Nan and Pok’s in Central Victoria. Where the wild things were.

crested pigeon on wire_cskk_flickr
Balancing act – cskk – Flickr

It turns out we either hadn’t been paying attention, or we were living in the wrong suburb; Crested Pigeons, are pretty common city-slickers, seen everywhere* from Brisbane to Adelaide, Perth to Darwin.

It wasn’t always this way. Crested Pigeons were originally desert dwellers. As more and more of the mainland was transformed to ‘savanna’ style pastures, the pigeons made their way towards the coast. Now you can find them in urban parklands, footy fields and yet-to-be-developed empty blocks, scurrying along, one red-ringed eye searching for seeds and the other on alert for intruders.

So, how do they manage in the cities? A friend of mine tackled that topic in her honours research, and pointed out that we don’t really know that much. It seems Crested Pigeons enjoy the seeds of both native plants as well as those of the crops and weeds found in urban greenspaces. They’re gregarious (animals who enjoy hanging out in groups) so there’s always more than one pair of watchful eyes on alert. This, and their habit of nesting in trees, might help them avoid the predators (cats, dogs and foxes) that have forced so many ground-nesting birds out of our urban areas. They’ve also steered clear of competition with non-native pigeon species, the Feral Pigeon and Spotted Turtle Dove, who mainly stick to the city streets.

I, for one, am glad that Crested Pigeons made the move to urban-living. They add a wonderful touch of wild Australia to vacant blocks, discarded piles of dirt and neglected paddocks everywhere. Keep an eye out for them in your area! Although Feral Pigeons and Spotted Turtle Doves have a similar, pigeony shape, you can recognise the Crested Pigeon by their ever-present party hats.

ksoanes_crested pigeons
My local dirt-pile pigeons

*Tasmania excluded. Sorry island state, but you have many other cool animals as compensation.

Further reading

Birds in Backyards – http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Ocyphaps-lophotes

Mulhall and Lill (2011) What facilitates urban colonisation by Crested Pigeons Ochyphaps lophotesCorella, 35 (3): 73–81.

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