Time to start PIP-watching


A beautiful pied imperial-pigeon photographed by Julia Hazel.

It’s that time of year again – has anyone heard the koel yet? – and many migrant birds will be returning to our region for the summer. Among them none are more striking than the pied imperial-pigeons (Ducula bicolor) which fly south from Papua New Guinea to breed along the North Queensland coast. While their major breeding colonies occur on off-shore islands (most notably Low Isles off Port Douglas and North Brook off Cardwell) the birds are also seen around Townsville and Magnetic Island.

These birds depend heavily on coastal and island native woodlands for both feeding and breeding but according to a group of scientists and keen bird-watchers their population dynamics remain a mystery. The more we discover about these beautiful birds, the better we can ensure their survival into the future and there are two important ways that you can help.

Record your observations – if you see any of these birds whether in small or large flocks, or as single individuals, go to the PIPwatch website to record details. It is especially important to record any nests. Like all pigeon nests these are flimsy affairs of a few sticks apparently just “thrown together”, but careful observation will often reveal them. The birds’ call is distinctive – a deep soft cooing (oo-ooo) which some people mistake for an owl, though it is not likely to be heard at night. 

Some places you might see the birds are along the Ross River (especially downstream from the Nathan Street bridge); in parks and gardens where there are plenty of fruiting palms and other trees; on the Town Common and Magnetic Island – and perhaps even in your own garden.

Join the Mission Beach pigeon count – every summer a group of volunteers gathers at several Mission Beach locations in the late afternoon to count the birds as they fly out from their feeding grounds to roost in their colonies on the offshore islands. New volunteers are always welcome and details of this year’s event are below.

  • Date: Saturday 2nd November
  • Meeting time and place: 2pm at the C4 Environment Centre, Mission Beach where Dr Julia Hazel will present an update and information session before volunteers are allocated to a particular location.
  • Counting time: Counts will begin at 4pm and continue until dark.
  • Dinner: Volunteers will get together at the Misson Beach Bistro for a convivial meal together.
  • Further Information: Please contact Trish Pontynen by email or phone (0417735410 or 4772-0439) if you would like to join the volunteers this year, or if you have any other enquiries eg how-to-get-there directions, or advice re transport to Mission Beach or where to stay.

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