Story and photos by Susie Kearley
Visit the ‘Africa’ enclosure at Cotswold Wildlife Park in England, and you’ll find a group of speckled pigeons sitting pretty on their perches as they peruse the landscape below. The ‘Africa’ enclosure also includes vulturine guinea fowl, a couple of blue cranes, a hammerkop bird, and a group of little African deer called dik-dik. They all get on well and live together in harmony.
The speckled pigeon (Columba guinea) is native to Africa, and is especially common in open areas south of the Sahara Desert. It is sometimes called the Guinea pigeon because it has similar colouring to a common guinea fowl.
The speckled pigeon tends to live in urban areas and around people, looking for scraps of food that people have left behind or thrown away. The birds gather in large numbers where food is readily available, feeding on groundnuts or grain when they can find a good source of sustenance.
At Cotswold Wildlife Park, I had a chat with the keeper, Chris Green, about these unusual-looking birds. “They have impressive features with massive red areas around the eyes,” he said. “They used to be called triangular spotted pigeons but the people who name the species changed it.
“They fly in flocks of up to 700 in Ethiopia and parts of South Africa. They are a species of least concern and are not common in British zoos. We’ve just started breeding speckled pigeons and had our first eggs this year! We have one chick in the nest and one who’s flown.”
He invited me to take a look at the chick and held a ladder carefully so I could climb up to see the youngster in its nest. I carefully approached the pigeon’s nesting box and peered inside to see a cute little baby pigeon moving around contentedly. I snapped a few photos. He seemed unbothered by my antics and settled down for a snooze.
The adults waited outside of the nesting box, in another part of the aviary, and Chris assured me that the pigeons don’t seem to mind people taking an interest in their chicks. As we retreated from the nest, we tried to get closer to the adults, but they flew off and settled on branches a ‘safe’ distance away from us scary humans.
“We have one bolshy male and three females,” he told me. That’s British slang for uncooperative and stroppy! “I feed them commercially produced pigeon food, with greens, broccoli, chicory and fruit, including grapes, apples and pears. Looking after the birds doesn’t present any particular challenges, but the male does make a nuisance of himself. He chases the females around all the time. He’s aggressive and hounds them!”
Having now hatched two birds successfully, they are hoping to see more young reared in the enclosure. “The birds nest all year round and lay one to two eggs in a clutch,” he said. “The incubation period is 14-16 days before they hatch. That’s the highlight of looking after them – breeding the birds and seeing the young chicks grow up.”
I asked about relationships with other species in their aviary. Chris said there were no problems. “They get along fine with the other birds and animals in their enclosure. They do get chased by the guinea fowl sometimes, but the guinea fowl chase everything. And the pigeons are usually on a branch out of reach of the guinea fowl anyway, so it’s not a problem.
“We did have an issue with birds flying into the glass on the front of their enclosure, so we recently added a net, preventing them from flying into the viewing pane. But the baby speckled pigeon managed to get through the net, so it hasn’t been a total success.”
As Speckled Pigeons are native to Africa where there’s a hot climate, I wondered if they needed heated accommodation to keep them cosy during the cold winter months in the UK. Chris said they’re very adaptable and are tolerant of cold temperatures, but they have heated indoor options.
“The speckled pigeons don’t have to be moved in winter but do have access to a heated indoor shed if they would like to use it,” he explained. They don’t experience any difficulties adapting to the cooler climate.
We departed from the Africa enclosure having had a wonderful close-up experience with the speckled pigeons, having seen the baby in the nest, and feeling rather warm towards the species. Chris is a big fan of pigeons because they’re relatively tame and easy to manage. “We have never experienced any health issues with our speckled pigeons,” he said.
Around the globe, pigeons are great in number, but it’s always nice to see an unfamiliar exotic species of pigeon and to be allowed a peek into its world.
You can find out more about the birds at Cotswold Wildlife Park on their website at: www.cotswoldwildlifepark.co.uk
SUSIE KEARLEY is a freelance writer and journalist who lives in Great Britain along with two young guinea pigs and an aging husband. Susie has been published in Your Chickens, Cage & Aviary Birds, Small Furry Pets, and Kitchen Garden magazines.
Connect with Susie on: facebook.com/susie.kearley.writer
Originally published online, November, 2023, and regularly vetted for accuracy.