wood-pigeonwood-pigeon - wood-pigeon;
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wood-pigeon defined in 1930 yearwood-pigeon - Wood-Pigeon;
wood-pigeon - Head bluish grey; sides and back of neck glossed with violet and green, bounded on each side by a patch of white; upper parts grey, the wing-coverts broadly edged with white, forming a conspicuous bar; tail-feathers dark slate-grey; under parts reddish purple, pale on the belly; bill orange, powdered with white at the base legs and feet bright red. Length, seventeen inches.
Of the four species of British doves, the wood-pigeon is the most interesting, as well as the best known, on account of its large size, its abundance, and general diffusion throughout the country, and its plaintive music, so familiar to everyone; not in the rural districts only, but even in London town, where this bird exists in a semi- domestic state, and is seen to be actually tamer than the domestic pigeons it frequently associates with. Like most widely diffused and well-known species, it is called by various names: quest and cushat in the north, and, in England, ringdove and wood-pigeon. The last name, which it once shared with the stock-dove, is now becoming the most general.
For many years past the wood-pigeon has been increasing in numbers, and, in Scotland, extending its range; this is no doubt due to the spread of cultivation and the planting of trees, and to the extirpation of its natural enemies, the rapacious birds, by gamekeepers. But, in spite of all this, it is really surprising that the wood-pigeon should continue to increase, considering that it is one of the most persecuted of wild birds, and is perpetually being shot at by everyone in possession of a gun, from various motives. It affords good sport, and is a good bird for the table, and is heartily disliked by the farmers. It is an exceedingly voracious feeder, and as it is partial to grain of all kinds, to young turnip buds and leaves, also to the roots in which rooks or other birds have first pecked a hole, the amount of damage it does is very considerable. It also devours gooseberries, green corn, young clover, acorns, beech-mast, and wild fruit of most kinds. But the pigeon is not purely a pest to the farmer; after the harvest, when it resorts to the stubbles, it consumes an immense quantity of seeds of charlock and other noxious weeds.
In autumn and winter the number of wood-pigeons is greatly increased by the arrival of large flocks from the Continent; and at this season, and until March, it is not uncommon to see them congregated in thousands.
The wood-pigeon is the handsomest, as well as the largest, of the British doves, its dove-grey tints being singularly delicate, soft, and harmonious, and their effect heightened by the white marks and touch of iridescent colour on the neck. On the ground its motions are deliberate, and have a graceful dignity which contrasts strongly with the hurried, eager manner of the rock-pigeon and stock-dove. When startled from its perch it rushes out with great violence and loud clapping of the wings. Its flight is easy and powerful; and before alighting, when it sweeps swiftly and silently on its long, sharp-pointed wings through the glades of a wood, it sometimes has a singularly hawk-like appearance. Even the wild birds in the wood maybe deceived by it, and thrown for a few moments into a violent commotion.
The wood-pigeon's familiar song may be heard in favourable weather throughout the year, but its voice gains greatly in beauty in the breeding season. In May and June the love-note of this pigeon is one of the woodland sounds that never fail to delight the ear. It commonly happens that birds improve in voice in the season of courtship; and not only do they acquire greater richness and purity in their strains, but there is at this season an increased beauty and grace in their gestures and motions, and in most species the male indulges in pretty or fantastic antics - a kind of love-dance, in which he exhibits his charms to the female he is desirous of winning. All doves have performances of this kind, and that of the wood-pigeon is not the least graceful. On the ground, or on a branch, he makes his curious display before the female, approaching her with lowered head, and with throat and neck puffed out, in a succession of little hops, spreading his tail fanwise, and flirting his wings so as to display their white bars. All at once he quits his stand, and rising in the air to a height of thirty or forty yards, turns, and glides downwards in a smooth and graceful curve. This mounting aloft and circling descent is very beautiful to see, and produces the idea that the bird has been suddenly carried away by an access of glad emotion.
Breeding begins in April, and, in very favourable seasons, even as early as the first week in March. The nest is a slight platform of slender sticks laid across each other on the smaller branches or twigs of a tree, usually at a good height from the ground, and the eggs are two, with pure white, glossy shells. Two, and sometimes three, broods are reared in the season.
The young are fed on a substance called ' pigeon's milk,' a thick white, curd-like fluid, consisting of the partially digested food the parent bird has swallowed, and which is regurgitated from its crop. In feeding, the young bird thrusts its beak deep down into the mouth of its parent and literally drinks. The pigeons alone among birds feed their young in this way; and they also differ from other birds in drinking like mammals, taking a continuous draught instead of a series of sips.
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