The crested pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) is a relatively large, stocky pigeon with a highly distinctive appearance. As its name suggests, this species is easily recognised by its long, black, pointed crest, which is usually held erect (2) (3).
Most of the crested pigeon’s body is light grey, with pinkish sides to the neck and breast. The wings are marked with conspicuous black bars and have bright metallic purple and green patches, with white fringes to the feathers (2) (3). The crested pigeon has a long, brownish-black tail that has a slight greenish gloss above and a broad white band at the tip. Its underwings are silvery-grey, with white underwing-coverts (2).
The crested pigeon’s bill is blackish with a grey base, while its eyes are orange-yellow to orange-red (2) and are surrounded by a ring of pinkish-red skin (2) (3). This species’ legs and feet are pinkish-red. The male and female crested pigeon are similar in appearance, but juveniles have duller, browner plumage, a shorter crest and much less iridescence on the wings. The juvenile crested pigeon can also be recognised by its blue-green eyes, the bluish-grey ring of skin around each eye, and its greyish-pink legs and feet (2).
Two subspecies of crested pigeon are recognised, Ocyphaps lophotes lophotes and Ocyphaps lophotes whitlocki, with the latter having a much narrower white tip to the tail and more iridescent purple and blue on its uppertail (2). The crested pigeon is one of only two Australian pigeon species to have an erect crest on its head. It can be distinguished from the other species, the spinifex pigeon (Geophaps plumifera), by its larger size, greyer plumage and lack of distinctive facial markings (3).
The crested pigeon produces a rather variable double coo, which ranges from a soft, plaintive ‘cooo-oo’ to a louder ‘coo-wooo’. This species also gives a short, grunting ‘oo’ during displays (2).
- Also known as
- crested bronzewing, crested dove, saddleback pigeon, topknot pigeon, top-knot pigeon, toppy, whistle-winged pigeon, wire-wing.
- Columba lophotes, Geophaps lophotes.
- Length: 32.5 - 35.5 cm (2)
- 120 - 230 g (2)
Crested pigeon biology
A sociable species, the crested pigeon is typically seen in small to large flocks, sometimes numbering up to several hundred individuals. This species has a distinctive flight, with rapid, whirring wing beats interspersed with glides (2). When startled, crested pigeons take off with a characteristic whistling sound, which is produced by air passing over a modified primary feather on the wing (3) (5). Research has shown that this whistling sound may act as an alarm signal, alerting the rest of the flock to danger (5).
The crested pigeon feeds on a wide variety of seeds from native grasses, herbs and trees, as well as from introduced crops and weeds. It also eats some leaves, green shoots, bulbs and insects (2) (3). Foraging takes place on the ground (2), usually in the morning and evening, and flocks also congregate to drink at waterholes (2) (3).
The breeding season of the crested pigeon varies, with nesting potentially taking place at any time of year, but generally peaking between August and March. At this time, the male crested pigeon often performs a display flight, flying up at a steep angle with loud wing claps before gliding down to a perch with the wings held open. When courting a female, the male crested pigeon performs a ‘bowing’ display, raising and spreading his tail and raising his wings to show off the metallic patches. The male then bobs up and down while calling (2).
The crested pigeon’s nest consists of a flimsy platform of twigs, located in a tree or dense bush (2) (3). The female lays 2 white eggs (2) (3), which are incubated by both the male and female for 17 to 20 days (2). The young crested pigeons are cared for by both adults and fledge at about 14 to 19 days old. When conditions are favourable, the crested pigeon may raise several broods in a single season (2).
Crested pigeon range
The crested pigeon is endemic to Australia (2) (3) (4) and occurs across most of the continent (2) (3). This species is found on Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, but is absent from Tasmania as well as from southern Victoria, southeast New South Wales, Cape York and northern parts of the Northern Territory (2).
The subspecies O. l. whitlocki occurs in parts of Western Australia, with O. l. lophotes being found across the rest of the range. The distribution of the crested pigeon is likely to have expanded since European settlement of Australia (2).
The crested pigeon is not migratory, but may move into otherwise unsuitable arid areas after rains (2).
Crested pigeon habitat
The crested pigeon typically inhabits relatively dry, open woodlands, and can also be found in cultivated areas, parks and urban areas. It is usually found close to water, as it needs to drink every day (2) (3).
Crested pigeon status
The crested pigeon is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Crested pigeon threats
The crested pigeon is not currently believed to be at risk of extinction, as it is very widespread and its population is thought to be increasing (4). This species has adapted well to habitat clearance and can be found in agricultural and urban areas. It has also expanded its range into areas where habitat has been cleared and artificial water supplies have become available (2).
A beautifully patterned species, the crested pigeon is popular in captivity as a cage and aviary bird (6), but the potential impacts on the wild population are unknown.
Crested pigeon conservation
There are no specific conservation measures currently known to be in place for the crested pigeon.
Find out more
Find out more about the crested pigeon:
More information on conservation in Australia:
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- Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- A small, non-woody, seed bearing plant in which all the aerial parts die back at the end of each growing season.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Primary feathers
- In birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (October, 2012)
Gibbs, D., Barnes, E. and Cox, J. (2010) Pigeons and Doves: A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
Birds in Backyards - Crested pigeon (October, 2012)
BirdLife International - Crested pigeon (October, 2012)
Hingee, M. and Magrath, R.D. (2009) Flights of fear: a mechanical wing whistle sounds the alarm in a flocking bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences, 276: 4173-4179.
Vriends, M.M. (1994) Doves: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.