Karnataka is home to seven species of pigeons, ranging from the widespread to the endemics of the Western Ghats.
Grey-fronted Green-Pigeon or the Pompadour Green-Pigeon (Treron affinis)
The pitter-patter of raindrops ceased, and through the moisture-laden air in Coorg, I could hear a faint, melodious whistling in the distance. As I got closer, the flapping of wings overhead announced the presence of a flock of Grey-fronted Green Pigeons. A huge strangler fig was loaded with tiny fruits on its branches and the birds were busy feeding in the canopy, oblivious to my presence. The pigeons would first land on a tall tree close to the fruiting tree and then fly a short distance to the ficus to start feeding. Grey-fronted Green Pigeons are endemic to the Western Ghats from North Maharashtra to Kerala, and to the South-Eastern Ghats (Palkonda Hills). A comparatively small, short-tailed and dark green pigeon, it is characterised by a whitish forehead, well-defined grey crown, yellow-green eyebrow and face, yellowish throat, yellowish-olive rump and tail, and bright yellow-green underparts. The male has a dark purplish maroon and comparatively extensive mantle.
Mountain Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula badia)
Dhup trees in evergreen forests, growing up to 40 metres or taller, are impressive-looking trees with striking red young foliage. The fruit of the Dhup tree is a favourite with the largest of the pigeons found in the Western Ghats – the Mountain Imperial Pigeon. It is a frugivorous bird and a powerful flier, travelling long distances to fruiting trees, and can be seen flying in groups high above the canopy. The loud, booming call of this bird can be heard from afar but it is not easy to pinpoint the exact location. This species has maroon-brown wings, a pinkish breast and a pink bill. Male and female Mountain Imperial Pigeons look alike, but the females are usually smaller. These birds, like hornbills, play an important role in the seed dispersal of many fruiting trees in the Western Ghats.
Yellow-footed Green-Pigeon (Treron phoenicopterus)
Probably the most widespread of the wild pigeons found in India is the Yellow-footed Green Pigeon. Usually seen in large groups, these birds frequent fruiting ficus trees and can be seen sunning themselves on bare trees early in the morning. They are brightly coloured birds with bright yellow feet. They have a short, two-note whistling call. They move about rapidly while feeding — much like parakeets — and are very fond of the fruits on banyan and peepal trees. Yellow-footed Green Pigeons camouflage well, and an entire flock can disappear into a tree and become hard to spot unless they move.
Green Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula aenea)
A trip to Nagarahole National Park invariably results in sightings of the Green Imperial Pigeon, especially at the salt licks in the forest. Similar in size to the Mountain Imperial Pigeon, it is also a large, arboreal frugivore, but favours lower elevations and dry habitats. Within India, Green Imperial Pigeons are distributed along the Western and Eastern Ghats, Bihar, West Bengal, and North-east India. Outside India, they are widely distributed in Sri Lanka, Burma, North Thailand, and the Indo-Chinese region. The preferred habitat of the Green Imperial Pigeon is evergreen and moist deciduous forests, but it can also be seen in secondary forests that have ficus or other wild fruit trees. It is a handsome bird with pale vinous-grey head and underparts, dark metallic green upperparts, wings, and tail (the latter without any pale bands), no contrast in the underwing in flight, dark chestnut undertail-coverts, and, in some subspecies, a very striking chestnut nape-patch.
Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon (Columba elphinstonii)
Endemic to the Western Ghats of India, the Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon is mostly frugivorous, feeding arboreally on fruits, berries and buds. It also descends to the forest floor to eat fallen berries and snails. This is a range-restricted and vulnerable species with a small and declining population – a consequence of the widespread destruction of its forest habitat. It is a shy bird in its preferred shola habitat and is usually difficult to spot; Nandi Hills, however, has a disjunct population of Nilgiri Wood-Pigeon and is probably the best place to view them in Karnataka. The bird’s call consists of long-drawn-out, low-pitched hoots combined with multisyllabic hooting notes: “whoooh…whu-hu-hu-hoo…whoooh…whu-hu-hu”.
Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon (Treron bicinctus)
On very rare occasions, while observing flocks of Grey-fronted Green Pigeons in Coorg, I have come across the Orange-breasted Green Pigeon feeding along with them. This species can be easily mistaken for the other green pigeons, and careful observation is required to tell them apart, especially in large fruiting trees with hundreds of birds feeding. The call of the Orange-breasted Green Pigeon is easily distinguishable from the other species and is a good way to tell if the species is present. It starts with a rising nasal whistle followed by a rapid sequence of gurgling notes, with the complete song lasting five to six seconds. Orange-breasted Green Pigeons feed on a variety of fruits and berries like figs, guavas, banyan, cinnamon berries, lantana berries and wild palm fruit. These birds are usually seen in India from April to June.
Wild Rock Pigeon / Blue Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
The ubiquitous pigeon found all over the world is in fact a feral or oftentimes domesticated version of the Wild Rock Pigeon. Wild Rock Pigeons roost and nest in crevices, caves in rocky seaside cliffs, or interior uplands, especially near open scrub vegetation or human agriculture. They avoid areas of tall and dense vegetation. Rock Pigeons largely feed on seeds and fruits and can be found foraging early in the morning and afternoon. Wild Rock Pigeons — native to Europe, North Africa, and western, southwestern, west-central, and southern Asia — gave rise to the domestic species as a result of artificial selection by humans. Domestic and feral pigeons are amongst the most intensively studied of all birds. Knowledge of avian flight mechanics, thermoregulation, water metabolism, endocrinology, sensory perception, orientation and navigation, learning (the original subjects in Skinner boxes), genetics of colour, pattern, behaviour and other characteristics, and Darwinian evolutionary biology have depended heavily on research using domestic and feral Rock Pigeons.