By Tony Brancato
The squatter pigeon (Petrophassa scripta) is also called the partridge pigeon and the partridge bronzewinged pigeon. This Australian import is a unique and beautiful member of the pigeon family.
The squatter pigeon was first reported by a collector named Robert Brown in 1802. A botanist by profession, Brown was on the Investigator, a vessel captained by Matthew Finders. The purpose of their expedition was to collect plants native to Queensland, Australia. Brown was also interested in birds and collected several specimens of pigeons, including the bar-shouldered pigeon and the partridge or squatter pigeon.
|Photo: Tony Brancato|
Squatter pigeons squat when startled.
Brown made no notations of how he collected his specimens, but he did note the habitat where the pigeons were found. "The whole country is pleasing to the eye. There are few trees. The fine grass appears very fertile. There is plenty of fresh water in pools and creeks and many kangaroos." The specimens collected were sent to the British Museum of Natural History, where they are still stored today.
This species is more like quail in its behavior than a pigeon. When startled, the squatter squats to conceal itself, hence its name. When approached within 5 to 10 feet, the squatter quickly runs away. Only when the pigeon deems that it is in eminent danger will it actually fly. Flight is swift and of short duration.
Many times when I enter the aviary, my squatter pigeons flatten themselves against the floor. If I move too close, they run to the other end of the aviary. Seldom will they fly out of reach to a high perch.
The adult male is basically brown from the crown, back of the neck, rump tail and wing coverts. Each feather is edged with a delicate line of tan, giving a scalloped effect. The outer wing shields are very metallic green and metallic greenish purple in the sunlight. The male's face is black with a snow-white line below the eye and a pure white band from bill to eye. The upper breast is light tannish brown shaded into a bluish gray at the lower breast. The abdomen is also bluish gray. The sides of the breast are pure white. The bill is black, typical of most pigeons.The legs and feet are deep purple. Eyes are dark (in domestic pigeons this color is called "bull"). The skin around the eye and eyelid is ringed in yellow.
The adult female is similar to the male. Usually, the adult female is smaller and a bit duller in color and sheen than the adult male. Both sexes are remarkably similar to the untrained eye. Subtle differences between the sexes can be noted by careful observation of behaviors.
Juveniles are dull brown with some definition of a faint chestnut pattern. The young of most doves and pigeons are remarkably similar. Many times, it is difficult in our collection of 32 species to determine the exact species when young birds are on the floor of the aviary — especially if the birds are the same size and age.
The squatter pigeon's voice is a harsh, loud coo. It begins and ends abruptly when the male is courting or advertising his presence. The voice of this species is similar to other pigeons and doves.
This species is found in two very different environments on the great continent of Australia. Squatters are found in regions of heavy-forested areas and tropical woodlands. They are also foundin lesser numbers in mangroves, grasslands and savannas.
Populations in the wild plummeted with the introduction of wheat farming, sheep and cattle. Habitat destruction by sheep has caused this species to practically disappear from many of its former ranges. The species survived cattle grazing until drought and overgrazing turned grasslands into red, barren earth. Hunting, both legal and illegal, has also exacted a terrible toll on the pigeons. Only in some areas such as the Cape York peninsula, inland toward the Gulf of Carpentaria and inland areas of the peninsula are they seen in small numbers today.
In the wild, squatter pigeons breed when food and rains are plentiful, similar to other ground doves and pigeons. The breeding season typically begins in September, March, April, June and July. The nest is usually a scrape in the ground, lined with a few pieces of dried leaves and grass. The nest is concealed and sheltered under a clump of tall grass, bush or a fallen log. Two eggs are laid. They are creamy white, with a smooth lustrous shell.
Incubation is between 17 and 18 days. Both parents incubate and care for the squabs. In a short nine days, the squabs fledge and leave the nest. The parents continue to feed them for an additional three weeks. Young squatter pigeons develop rapidly. In four weeks, they are as large as their parents. Sexual maturity is reached between 6 and 8 months of age.
In captivity, squatter pigeons breed in early spring, summer and fall. Squatters are sporadic breeders in captivity. In the wild, a pair may raise one or two young that survive to maturity. In captivity, survival of the young birds is greater but so is infertility. This rate of breeding is like that of all wild doves and pigeons — squatters are no different. They are not very prolific.
In the wild, this species consumes vast amounts of various grass and weed seeds, small nuts, berries and some live invertebrates. In our aviaries, we feed our doves a good quality of enriched finch food. I like to mix wildbird seed (without cracked corn) in even proportions. I also add safflower seeds and small black sunflower seeds to the mix. Every other day, all of our birds get as much soft food as they can clean up in an hour. The soft food consists of steamed or microwaved rice with steamed corn or broccoli. I sometimes add grated raw carrots as well. I'm a firm believer in adding vitamins to the soft food. I use vitamins formulated for birds. Several times a week, I also add brewer's yeast.
Water fountains and food containers are always sterilized following use. I keep a 30-gallon plastic trash container outside of each aviary filled with water and bleach. All the food and water containers go into this container after use. I add half a gallon of bleach to 30 gallons of water. This setup severely curtails waterborne germs.
All of our pigeons are housed in spacious aviaries. All doves and pigeons enjoy sunbathing. Sunshine is important for the well-being of these birds. Our aviaries face south or southeast. Two of our aviaries also have skylights. The aviary must be dry, draft-free and vermin proof. Doves will not be inclined to breed if external vermin such as parasites or rodents harass them.
In areas of the country that are infested with snakes, extra care must be provided so they cannot get into the aviary. Quarter-inch hardware cloth (welded wire) will deter unwelcome visitors. When we moved to our new location in Cherry Valley, California, hawks began to harass our doves. Although they could not get in, the terrified pigeons flew into walls and injured themselves. I solved the problem by covering the flights with green shade cloth. Sunlight continuesto come in through the corrugated plastic greenhouse panels on the flights. Visiting hawks ceased their attacks.
It is important to cover all flights. Open wire tops on flight pens invite predators to harass, injure and kill pigeons. Open wire topped flights are also a source of contamination from wild birds' droppings. Food and water can be soiled easily by wild birds. Domestic cats may also cause havoc trying to snare pigeons.
Squatter pigeons are excellent aviary birds. They are a nonaggressive species to other small birds. For a wild pigeon, the species is calm and docile and not vocal. The down side is that they are difficult to find and relatively expensive for a pigeon (although much less expensive than some hookbills). They are a great addition to the connoisseur pigeon collector.
If you have a question for Tony Brancato, send him an e-mail care of Bird Breeder at firstname.lastname@example.org. We regret that columnists are not able to respond to letters individually.
Tony Brancato has bred doves and pigeons for 35 years. He currently breeds 25 species of seed-eating foreign doves. Brancato lives on the Central Coast of California.