Columbus, the crested pigeon
Also called crested bronzewing (and wrongly, topknot pigeon)
Hello. I'm Columbus the crested pigeon, and I have made a home at Calamvale Creek in Brisbane, Australia.
Like most crested pigeons, I don't like to be out on my own. I will usually be with at least one other crested pigeon, but regularly get together in a group of 20 or more to find out who's found the best food source today and who's laying eggs.
What do I eat?
I prefer to feed on the ground, and eat grass seeds, leaves, weeds, and small insects such as caterpillars.
Always near water
I have to be near water, and drink every morning about 30 minutes after sunrise. So you are unlikely to find me in areas with no waterholes, dams, or streams.
Three requirements for crested pigeons are: Open ground for feeding, access to water, and trees for shelter and breeding.
We don't move around much. So if those three needs are met, we tend to stay around an area.
What makes us different?
The two features that make crested pigeons different from other birds are:
1. We have a nice spiky punk hair-do. Young people have copied our hairstyle in recent years.
The only other bird that has this type of crest is the spinifex pigeon, but it is only about two-thirds of our size.
2. When we fly, we make a squeaky sound — like someone quickly polishing a shiny pole or a mirror. The sound comes from air passing over special primary wing feathers.
I recently helped Mrs Columbus make a lovely nest in a tree near the creek so we could raise a couple of chicks. Crested pigeons like a thick bushy tree to build a nest, and nearly always lay two eggs.
We spent a few days looking for suitable sites. Mrs Columbus tested various tree forks, and did a lot of tapping on each with her beak to see whether it was strong enough, and a lot of “whooing” to see whether this brought out any nasty neighbours.
We found a tree with a solid fork 4 metres from the ground. It was not too obvious to crows or butcherbirds (who sometimes raid our nests), and the foliage seemed too dense for cats to climb up. Here are some pictures of what happened on that memorable first day of nest building.
First day. In the left picture, the sun has just come up on a Monday morning late in March, and I am about to head out to gather twigs for the nest. Mrs Columbus is the architect, and she is already in the tree waiting for me to bring the building materials.
I made a lot of trips down to the creek bank, 25 metres away, to gather twigs. Each time I found a suitable twig I flew back to the nest with it in my mouth, and left it for Mrs Columbus to arrange. I stayed about 30 seconds each time, came out and sat on an outer branch for about 5 seconds (middle photo), then flew off (right photo) to get another twig.
Second day. In the photo above, I was looking for small sticks on the second day of nest building, but couldn't find any more.
So I headed off to another area, and this time it took me about 90 seconds between trips. I was getting tired by the second day, so I spent longer on the outer branch before flying off — about 30 seconds each time instead of 5. Mrs Columbus was arranging the nest nicely.
Our nest is a flimsy-looking platform of various sized twigs.
It is about 20 centimetres (8 inches) long, and has to be substantial enough to hold one of us and the eggs, then the hatched chicks, for about six weeks.
The stick over the middle is a bar to help stop the eggs from falling off.
The x-ray photo at right is of our nest taken from the side. The main tree trunk runs down the right-hand side of the photo. You can see that we made the nest in a sort of J shape. It is shaped more like a baby's car seat than a flat platform or cup nest.
You may be able to see in the photos that we put extra padding against the main trunk of the tree, and brought the nest down over a couple of other branches. The padding against the trunk allows Mrs Columbus a little more comfort, and warmth at night, although it doesn't leave much room for the eggs.
On the third day I was really pooped. But we still had to line the interior. So off I went again to gather softer material — dry grasses and dead palm fronds. Knowing how fussy Mrs Columbus is, I rejected material that was of inferior quality. This took a lot of time, walking around gardens of nearby houses to collect the better materials. The photos above show the finished nest.
Finally the nest was ready, and Mrs Columbus and I soon became the proud parents of two beautiful chalk-white eggs, 30 millimetres long. In the photo at right you can just make her out in the dim light sitting on the eggs.
After three weeks our beautiful little chicks hatched, and three weeks later Coo and Whoop were ready to leave the nest.
Oh well, kids have to leave the nest eventually. But they haven't moved from the creek. They are now part of our daily gossip group.
Word on the street:
“Did you hear that the Columbuses have two new babies?”
— Columbus, the crested pigeon