By James Duncan
Learning and Engagement Officer
The Common Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) is on a rapid ascent to becoming the UK's most numerous garden bird. It's probable that of all our gardens, only the Blackbird and Blue Tit are spotted in a higher percentage. It's also our most common pigeon and the most numerous large, wild bird in Britain. Some individuals can weigh over 500g - to put that into perspective, it's around the same weight as five adult Blackbirds. Though conspicuous it's also rather attractive, displaying a blue/grey head, a 'wine-like' breast and irridescent green and violet on the neck. The neck is perhaps the most distinctive feature as it's also marked with glistening white (in the adults). In flight, the bold white wing bars are highly distinctive.
Perhaps surprisingly its sheer abundance and widespread distribution was not always the case. The expansion of arable agriculture has undoubtedly served as the main reason, the boom in oil seed rape improving their survival prospects over winter. No doubt the volume of seed and fruit now available in gardens across the country may play an additional part. Woodpigeons have even been recorded nesting in every month of the year! It's also quite staggering just how much food a single Woodpigeon can consume - the enormous crop and stomach can, for example, hold more than 1000 grains of corn and 200 beans. Woodpigeons are also one of the few birds to uniquely feed their young (squabs) on crop-milk, a substance similar to that produced by mammals and extremely high in fats.
This portly bird may give the appearance of being somewhat ungainly, but is in fact surprisingly agile and can often be seen hanging upside down whilst feeding. The frantic clatter of wings as it bursts from foliage in sheer panic is perhaps one of its most recognisable traits. The song is also highly distinctive, a five note ditty, following the theme "coo-COOO-coo-coo-coo. Old English mnemonics used for this include "My toe bleeds, Betty' and 'Take two cows, Taffy.' Spring is also the time to see the characteristic display flights of the males as they soar steeply upwards, enact a wing clap or two and continue with a slow gliding descent with the tail spread.
Woodpigeon © James Duncan