Hear the word "pigeon", and you may envision a bird that is chubby, gray-toned, and sitting on a big city statue. But did you know that there are more than 300 species of pigeons found all over the world? Many are strikingly beautiful, possessing metallic feathers, fancy crests, and intricate patterns. The largest member of the pigeon family is also one of the most flamboyant -- the Victoria Crowned Pigeon.
They are very different from Rock Doves -- the pigeons that pick crumbs from our city sidewalks. They are one of three species of large ground-dwelling pigeons native to the rainforests of Papua New Guinea. Almost the size of a wild turkey (albeit with shorter legs), Victoria Crowned Pigeons are patterned in subtle shades of blue, gray, and purple with striking red eyes.
The species is named in part for Queen Victoria of Great Britain, who ruled the British Empire from 1837-1901. But their most royal feature has to be the glorious crown of lacy feathers, each tipped in white, sitting atop their bobbing heads. Most visitors to the National Aviary mistake ours for peacocks.
In the wild, Victoria Crowned Pigeons are considered a vulnerable species. They are prized for their meat, so much so that hunters have been known to snatch young wild birds from their nests, raising them domestically for eventual slaughter. They are also prized for their plumage, which makes them popular in the pet trade, and important to indigenous people who use their feathers in traditional dress. Their large bodies, gregarious nature, and love for hanging out at or near ground level have made them easy targets for hunters. The birds who do not succumb to hunting face a great pressure -- the loss of their own lowland habitats through logging. Hunting and habitat loss is threatening this species more and more each day.
The species is thriving in captivity, and more and more people are becoming aware of their plight in the wild. At the National Aviary, our Victoria Crowned Pigeons are happy to make your acquaintance. "William" and "Mary" frequently makes appearances at interactive feedings and can be found relaxing in the middle of our Tropical Forest walkways. In true Victoria Crowned Pigeon fashion, William frequently displays to Mary by bowing his head, fanning his tail, and emitting a deep, drum-like "coo." He has been known to flirt with the unsuspecting passers-by as well!
Crowned pigeons in general have been a fixture at the National Aviary for much longer than many people realize. Our current pair of Victoria Crowned Pigeons has been in residence for more than 10 years, but a variety of crowned pigeon species have been housed here since the 1950s.
The National Aviary has come a long way in our 60 years on Pittsburgh's North Side, but it's nice to know that some things never change -- crowned pigeons have been greeting visitors for more than half a century, and we plan to have them to do so royally for years to come.
You can meet William and Mary in person at the National Aviary throughout the year, or on Sept. 29 as we celebrate our 60th anniversary! For information: www.aviary.org.science