In parts of California this time of year, band-tailed pigeons appear in abundance, flocking together in large groups near oak woodlands and conifer forests.
Band-tailed pigeons can be identified by a yellow bill and yellow feet, and a lovely, violet-hued plumage.
Currently, California's coastal population of band-tailed pigeons is experiencing a significant mortality event caused by avian trichomonosis.
Experts warn we may lose thousands, which would be devastating to a species already in decline and with a slow recovery rate. Band-tailed pigeons only produce one chick per year.
Avian trichomoniasis is caused by a single-celled protozoan that causes "cheese-like" lesions in the mouth and throat. As the disease worsens, a bird loses its ability to swallow, and dies of starvation or suffocation.
When an ill pigeon has trouble swallowing, it will drop infected seed from its mouth. As it tries to drink, the protozoa can spread to other birds through the water.
This video (below) shows a band-tailed pigeon suffering from trichomonosis.
You can do your part to help reduce the spread of this horrible disease!
Band-taileds feed on seed, on the ground and from bird feeders and they are attracted to bird baths and garden fountains. This is where the parasite spreads quickly, especially when the pigeons flock in such great numbers.
Help prevent the spread of the disease by taking away any attractants - remove bird feeders, prevent the pigeons from sharing feed with poultry, and take away their access to any water sources, like fountains and bird baths.
Report dead or dying band-tailed pigeons to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, HERE or call (916) 358-2790. More from CDFW on this mortality event, HERE.
In general, it's not a good idea to feed wildlife. It causes animals to group up in unusually high numbers where diseases can spread easily. It conditions animals to an artificial food source, changing their normal, healthy foraging behavior. Lastly, it can be a death sentence, especially in an urban setting where increased wildlife sightings and conflicts result in animals being killed.
Even when there is not a significant disease outbreak, feeding wild birds comes with great responsibility:
- Bird feeders must be thoroughly washed and disinfected weekly.
- Bird baths must be rinsed daily, disinfected and let to air dry in the sun at least once a week.
- The ground beneath a bird feeder must be kept free of seed so birds aren't feeding on soiled material and so there is not such an attraction for rodents.