The White-crowned Pigeon
Patagioenas leucocephala
by John Pire

In going thru some old files and boxes of "dove stuff" I came across a folder which contained some of my hand written articles. Some articles were as early as 1985 and as late as 1992. I have since begun typing these articles so they can be shared with members. The following article is from 1987 and pertains to my personal observations of the several breeding pairs of White-crowned Pigeons I had in my exotic dove/pigeon collection. It is hoped that this information will be of help to those fanciers who keep this species or may entice someone to add this "beautiful native pigeon" to their collection.

All NATIVE U.S. species of DOVES/PIGEONS require a Federal Goverment Special Permit to keep them in captivity -- this does not include any feral or introduced species of doves/pigeons

The following information pertaining to the habitat of the species is of little use to the birds in captivity. It would be almost impossible to re-create their natural habitat of mangrove swamps inside the aviaries. The info is given here to give you an idea of where the specie is from. The information is taken from Derek Goodwin’s book: Pigeons & Doves of the World, 3rd printing, 1983.

White-crowned Pigeons inhabit the islands off the Caribbean coast of Central America from the Yucatan to north-western Panama; extreme southern Florida, Bahamas, Greater Antilles & Lesser Antilles, east & south to Antigua. A lowland species, migratory between islands & only found in low coastal areas of larger islands such as Cuba. They are largely arboreal in their feeding habits. Recorded foods: various fruits, berries and cultivated grain taken from the plants. Also recorded taking snails.

The following descriptions of the adult male, female and juvenile are from my personal observations of the three breeding pairs & eight young raised in 1986. The data on behavior, nesting, etc are also from my observations. In the bird’s description I use the term "clear". To me this means a clear color with no suffusion or overcast of another color. This "clear" color aids in sexing the White-crowned Pigeon.

This species derives it name from the "white crown" of feathers on the bird's crown and forehead. It is noted that this specie is considered to be dimorphic & one of the main differences between the male & female is the "white crown". The male has a pure white crown. Whereas in the female it is a dirty brownish or off white color. This is the norm, although there are females which have a pure white crown just like the male and can be mistaken for a male. If this occurs there are still several differences which will help sex the birds. Being an American specie it has the typical "partli-colored" bill; red at the base & whitish to the tip. The legs and feet are red. The eye cere is "white". The "iris" is white & the pupil is dark.

The adult male is a large dark gray (almost black) pigeon. He sports a "clear" white crown and forehead. There is a glossy scaled patterned patch of purple-black on the hind neck turning to a glossy green scaled pattern on the sides of the neck. This hind neck facet is present in both sexes. I have not observed any difference in the intensity of this area between the male & female. The breast and belly of the male is a shade lighter than the back and wing shield color & is uniform from the bill to the vent feathers. The back is a "clear" dark gray color (almost black). This "clear" dark gray follows thru to the tail feathers.

The adult female is as large as the male and similar in coloration. She has a characteristic "brownish" cast or suffusion to her back & wing shields. Her breast is a shade lighter gray (similar to the male’s color) and as you look towards the belly a "line" will appear at about midway down her chest. The lower portion is another shade lighter than the upper half of the frontal region. It will look like two shades of gray coming together. When an adult "pair" are seen side by side, from either the back or front, you will see the differences. From the front the hens chest & abdomen will be lighter then the male’s. From the back you will notice the male’s "clear" color when compared to the brownish overcast or suffusion of the hen’s back. The eye cere will be white. The usual "crown" color is a dirty or brownish-white. Bill, legs and feet same as in the male.

The juvenile is similar to the hens. They lack the adult’s partli-colored bill, they also lack the red legs and feet. First year White-crowned young sport a partial or half-crown of brownish white color (similar to the hen’s crown coloring).

The following was observed and tested in these eight young back in 1986/87 and since then on all young raised in my collection. It has proven to be accurate for determining the juvenile’s sex. When the young begin to feather out watch the "feather line" right at the base of the upper bill. In hens these first feathers are the dirty brownish white color; in the young male this first line of feathering is "white" and the remaining half crown becomes similar to the hens coloration. Another sexing factor became evident in my observations of the juvenile birds. When the young have attained feathering about the sides of the head (around the eyes) it was noticed the "eyebrow" feathers could be used to sex the males & females. The "white" feathers are male & the brownish white feathers are female. If these techniques seem a bit tedious you can opt for pulling a few feathers on the back & wing shield of the juvenile birds. Pulling the feathers in more than one place increases your chances of seeing any differences when new feathers appear (don’t denude the youngster). Also wait until the youngster has left the nest & is quite fully feathered. Pull an area roughly the size of a "dime" in about two places on the back & one area on each wing shield. If the new feathers are "clear" dark gray (black) it is a male. If the new feathers come in & the area looks similar to the surrounding area it is a female. Note: the juvenile’s body coloration is similar to the hen – in having the brownish overcast or suffusion.

You need to remember there may only be a couple of feathers in which to observe & that I had the advantage of being able to handle "all" my birds when needed & these minute differences could be seen holding the birds in my hands & comparing them to each other. I know you are thinking – well just pull the "crown" feathers & if they come in white or brownish white you will know the sex. This does not work! I tried it on all the young, along with the other techniques. I still utilize all these sexing techniques on any White-crowned Pigeon I raise & they are just as accurate now as back in 1986/87.

The White-crowned Pigeon lays a clutch of two white eggs. From Goodwin’s book he states that "one" egg clutches were observed. In personal letters to Derek, on the subject, I asked him about these observations. He remarked that he remembers getting "unsupported" observations of the bird and their nests in the wild. He agreed with me that these observed "wild nests" could have been where an egg had been eaten or had fallen to the "mangrove" floor. These "observations" could also have been recorded after the first egg was laid and before the second egg was laid. I told him my three pairs always laid two egg clutches and I never recorded a single egg clutch. He said that the birds he observed in European captivity also were known to lay two egg clutches.

The eggs are laid approximately 24 to 36 hours apart – I found that the first egg was usually laid in the afternoon or early evening & the second egg was laid by darkness of the next day. The parents started incubation with the laying of the first egg. As the eggs hatched about the same time apart as they were laid. It takes fourteen days for the eggs to hatch & approximately another two weeks for the young to leave the nest box.

I have tried several different "nests" for the birds. My three pair prefer a "nest box" to an open top type box, basket or platform. My nest boxes are 12" square with the bottom extending about six inches past the front of the box lip. This allows the bird to land & step over the "lip" of the half open front. This eliminates the birds landing directly on the eggs & either breaking them or knocking them out of the nest. The top extends about two inches creating a slight overhang – shielding the entrance somewhat. I prefer to paint the boxes black – the birds seem to prefer them also as compared to a wood colored box. My thoughts: the birds like the dark interior of the "black" box & seem to sit better – possibly thinking they are well concealed. These "black" nest boxes are still in use today.

Feeding White-crowned Pigeons is simple, a good seed mix can be used. Supply a mineral "grit" which aids them in the digestion the seed. I also feed a soft mix which contains mixed veggies, chopped fruit and dry dog food (looks like ground hamburger meat – I buy the kind with cheese added). Supply fresh water.

I keep my breeding pairs of White-crowned Pigeon in individual flights. When other doves were added I found that the WC became aggressive towards them. It was only done twice – losing two birds convinced me to house the breeding pairs separately. This philosophy is still adhered to today.

The White-crowned Pigeon eggs can be fostered under foster pairs of doves. I fostered six eggs. Five young were raised by the foster African Collared Doves (Streptopelia roseogrisea arabica). The sixth youngster was pulled from the foster birds & hand reared – this was due to the foster birds not being able to feed both young. Timing of the egg laying needs to be as close as possible – I believe timing needs to be within two days. I utilized eight pair of African Collared Doves in my fostering program back then. A single WC egg was placed along with an infertile egg or a "fake" egg under a foster pair. Sometimes both WC eggs were placed under the fosters until another foster pair laid their clutch of eggs. Upon the White-crowned eggs hatching I would remove one of the young to another foster pair which had just hatched their young. Sometimes the other pair was not due to hatch for a few more days; I would then leave both young, for up to five days, before removing one young to another foster pair. Because of the size of the WC young, fosters could not adequately feed two young at once. Too much demand on them for their pigeon milk.

 I had an interesting observation in one pair. Upon setting up the pair for breeding I noticed that the hen laid the typical two egg clutch, but only she would set the egg. For the full incubation time the hen was the only one to incubate the eggs. She would come out of the nest box eat drink, stretch and then fly right back to the nest. The male never attempted to help in the incubation of the eggs as is typical for pigeon species. One egg hatched the other never developed an embryo. After the chick hatched I noticed the male going into the nest and feeding the young. He would stay about a half-hour and then exit the nest box. The hen then would resume the care. I noted that he did this about four times during the daylight hours. At night he perched on the front of the extended platform. This lasted for eight days; both parents then deserted the youngster. The youngster was then placed under the Africans & raised successfully.

An interesting fact was noticed while the White-crowned Pigeon young were fostered. This was discussed with Perry Candianides, an exotic dove/pigeon expert and Dr. Luis Baptista, of the California Academy of Sciences. I had noted that the young WC were becoming "stuck" inside the Africans’ bill when being fed. The foster parent would try to release the "stuck" youngster – sometimes becoming quite exhaustive, but still had the youngster "stuck" inside its beak. It would eventually get "unstuck" from the youngster. Perry & Luis told me that this was due to the White-crowned young having a small protrusion on either side of its’ beak. It is located near the base of the bill and is not very noticeable. Luis said he is researching this facet & that it is likely due to an adaptation of the young because of where the species nests – over the mangrove swamps. These "hooks" or protrusions may allow the young to hang on to the inside of the parents' mouth while being fed. This adaptation may decrease the chances of being accidentally "tossed" or possibly "slipping" to a watery death while being fed. 

This adaptation may also be present in another closely related species, the Red-necked Pigeon or Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa). I had the Red-necked Pigeon at the same time, but never fostered any of their young. I never inspected the young as close as I did with the White-crowned Pigeon. The Red-necked Pigeons were kept at another place & raised their young quite well. I still have both species and possibly I will get a chance to make some close observations on the Red-neck Pigeons and their young in the future.

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