Band-tailed Pigeon

September 29th, 2019: A birdy morning at QE Park

It was cool this morning, but man was it ever birdy! It’s getting late for warblers, but the sparrows and thrushes are definitely on the move. I was happy to sneak out to Queen Elizabeth Park again this morning to see what was up.

As soon as I arrived and ducked around a pond on the north side of the park, I saw a huge mixed feeding flock on the lawns. There were Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, American Robin, and a ton of Varied Thrush!

Fox Sparrow at QE
Fox Sparrow at QE

I was just thinking I might finally get some good photos of Varied Thrush feeding on berries in the morning light when someone’s dog (off leash!!) ran through the dozens of feeding birds!! It scared them all off and, despite my waiting, they did not return. Needless to say, I was pretty upset. There is an easily accessible off-leash dog park in another part of QE. This owner “appeared” oblivious to the “dogs on leash except where posted” rule in Vancouver. When I called her on her dog running loose, she protested that she “didn’t see any signs to the contrary.” NOT a valid reason! It doesn’t say “no driving your car through the gardens” either, but nobody’s doing that… At least dogs aren’t great at killing the birds like cats do. Okay, rant over.

Anyway, I’d seen a few reports of White-throated Sparrow showing up in spots around town. It’s not exactly “rare” for us in Vancouver. But it’s also never an easy bird to find. The easiest time is now, so–while there hadn’t recent reports of them at QE–it was definitely a planned target for the day.

Hermit Thrush at QE
Hermit Thrush at QE

The nicest surprises were all the thrushes! There were probably 20 Varied Thrush easily in view in different locations around the park, more than a dozen Hermit Thrushes, and tons of American Robins migrating overhead. (I was mostly looking down for sparrows today, but noted at least 60 robins passing overhead.)

Female Varied Thrush at QE
Female Varied Thrush at QE

I didn’t find anything at the ponds at the base of the south slope, but was happy to turn up a Cooper’s Hawk and Common Raven when a bunch of passerines started kicking up a big fuss. It a good morning overall with 35 species total (eBird list)

Cooper's Hawk with prey
Cooper’s Hawk with prey

The bird I hadn’t been looking for and often don’t see was Band-tailed Pigeon. These are certainly around in Vancouver. But it’s easy to go a while without seeing any. QE is good for them, but the best spot in town is Colony Farm. At times flocks over 100 can be found there feeding on the large Elderberries. Today at QE, there were just 4, flying in a close flock around the park, seemingly unable to decide on where to land.

A Band-tailed Pigeon on a large Elderberry at Colony Farm
A Band-tailed Pigeon on a large Elderberry at Colony Farm

Band-tailed Pigeon are noticeably larger and have a far more graceful, consistent flight than Rock Pigeon (the only other gray pigeon in the area). There are two distinct populations of Band-tailed Pigeon in North America. Ours are the Pacific Northwest group. The other live in the dry mountain forests in the southwest (I’ve found them easily in L.A., for example). They feed on fruiting shrubs, which include our beautiful “Arbutus” (Pacific Madrone) and, of course, Elderberry.

Pacific Madrone (a.k.a. "Arbutus")
Pacific Madrone (a.k.a. “Arbutus”)

Aside from appreciating two brief in-flight views of these beautiful birds today, they do a nice job of drawing your eyes up. This is important when you’re mostly looking at sparrows. Plus, it allows you to notice other beautiful sights, like Washington State’s Mt. Baker in the distance!

Mt. Baker emerges from the distant clouds
Mt. Baker emerges from the distant clouds

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