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New Records of White-Crowned Pigeon Nesting in Urban Key West and Miami, Florida
Ricardo Zambrano and Thomas F. Sweets

Urban Naturalist, No. 13 (2017): 1–4

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Urban Naturalist 1 R. Zambrano and T.F. Sweets 22001177 URBAN NATURALIST No. 1N3o:1. –143 New Records of White-Crowned Pigeon Nesting in Urban Key West and Miami, Florida Ricardo Zambrano1,* and Thomas F. Sweets2 Abstract - Patagioenas leucocephala (White-crowned Pigeon) in Florida nest on remote mangrove islands in the extreme southern portion of the state. In 2013, 2 flightless young were found on a sidewalk close to a busy tourist area in Key West. In 2014, several active nests were found on palm trees located within the grounds of beach-front hotels, also close to the main tourist section of Key West. In 2015, 1 flightless chick was found in urban central Miami. Prior to these occurrences, White-crowned Pigeons had never been confirmed nesting in heavily urbanized and commercial areas. Hurricanes that hit South Florida in 2005, destroyed much of the species’ historic nesting habitat. The habitat damaged by the hurricanes has yet to recover completely, which may be a factor influencing the observed nesting by the species in areas with high levels of human distu rbance. In Florida, Patagioenas leucocephala L. (White-crowned Pigeon) is declining and listed as a threatened species (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2016a). With few exceptions, White-crowned Pigeons nest in remote or undeveloped areas. In Florida, the pigeon nested historically almost exclusively on remote, tidally inundated Rhizophora mangle L. (Red Mangrove) and Avicennia germinans L. (Black Mangrove) islands in the Key West National Wildlife Refuge (KWNWR), Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge (GWHNWR), Florida Bay, Barnes Sound, Card Sound, and Biscayne Bay (Bancroft and Bowman 2001, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2013). A few recent observations have confirmed nesting on the Florida mainland (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2016b). The White-crowned Pigeon is a habitat generalist in its breeding range in Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. The pigeon feeds on the fruits and seeds of a wide variety of plant species and nests semi-colonially or individually in mangrove forests, subtropical moist and dry forests, or offshore islands with dry seasonal forest vegetation (Arendt et al. 1979, Bancroft and Bowman 2001, Wiley 1979, Wiley and Wiley 1979). Wiley and Wiley (1979) recorded nesting White-crowned Pigeons on remnant coastal rainforest on the grounds of a resort in Puerto Rico and Strong et al. (1991) found 1 nest in 1990, in a development in northern Key Largo, but gave no details regarding the proximity of the nest to residential or commercial areas. We report here the details of at least 5 nesting attempts documented during 2013–2015, in urban areas in southern Florida. 1Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 8535 Northlake Boulevard, West Palm Beach, FL 33460. 2Key West Wildlife Center, 1801 White Street, Key West, FL 33040. *Corresponding author - Manuscript Editor: Allan Strong Urban Naturalist R. Zambrano and T.F. Sweets 2017 No. 13 2 On 13 June 2013, two flightless White-crowned Pigeon young were found on a sidewalk in the busy tourist section of Key West, Florida, 1 block from the intersection of Wall Street and Duval Street. No nests were found on nearby trees despite intensive searches. The nearest known nesting colony to this site is located 5 km offshore on a mangrove island in the KWNWR. The young were rehabilitated and released once capable of flying. On 7 May 2014, a near-flight–capable juvenile was found on the ground at a beachfront hotel on Front Street, Key West, about 0.25 km from Wall Street. During a search of the surrounding trees, we detected an adult White-crowned Pigeon on a nest atop a Cocos nucifera L. (Coconut Palm) and on 22 May 2014, we found nesting adults on 3 different Coconut Palms situated around the swimming pools of this hotel and one adjacent to it. We discovered 2 more flightless young below Coconut Palms at these 2 hotels on 16 June 2014 and 4 July 2014. The young were rehabilitated until they could fly and feed on their own and then were released. On 10 April 2015, a White-crowned Pigeon was turned over to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by a Miami resident through the Pet Amnesty program. The resident found the pigeon as a downy nestling outside her residence on SW 23rd Street, Miami, and had cared for it for 6 months after it was misidentified as a guan (Cracidae), a family of birds not native to Florida. The observed nesting behavior in urban areas is unusual for several reasons. White-crowned Pigeons commonly nest semi-colonially on tidally inundated mangrove islands in Florida, which provide some protection from predators such as Procyon lotor L. (Raccoon) (Bancroft and Bowman 2001, Strong et al. 1991). All of the Key West nests were found on individual trees, with only 1 nest per tree. Further, White-crowned Pigeons are extremely skittish and easily flushed from both nesting and foraging areas (Bancroft 1996, Bancroft and Bowman 2001). All of the nests found in Key West and the nestling found in Miami were in heavily trafficked streets and sidewalks, recreation areas, or in densely populated residential areas. One possible explanation for the observed nesting behavior may be the loss of nesting habitat that occurred in the KWNWR and GWHNWR as a result of Hurricane Dennis and Hurricane Wilma in 2005 (Wilmers 2011). Counts of White-crowned Pigeon nests within the KWNWR and GWHNWR during 2000–2011 were lowest shortly after the hurricanes in 2006 (Wilmers 2011). The nesting habitat in the GWHNWR has recovered more quickly than the mangrove islands in the KWNWR, but foraging areas are readily available in the Key West area (Wilmers 2011). Thus, behavioral adaptations to human disturbance coupled with greater availability of food resources may also play a role in urban nesting. Predation pressures may also be influencing this shift in nesting habitat. Strong et al. (1991) found that Raccoons influenced White-crowned Pigeon nesting locations in Florida Bay. The presence and abundance of mammalian predators in the KWNWR and GWHNWR is not known, but if predation is high it may explain why the White-crowned Pigeons have started nesting in urban areas. Urban areas tend also to have high abundance of Raccoons (Prange et al. 2003); but the pigeons may avoid predation in Key West by nesting on Coconut Palms, which average 6–9 m in Urban Naturalist 3 R. Zambrano and T.F. Sweets 2017 No. 13 height and have smooth trunks that are difficult for Raccoons to climb. Wiley and Wiley (1979) similarly reported that the majority of White-crowned Pigeon nests at the resort in Puerto Rico were on Roystonea borinquena O.F. Cook (Royal Palm). In contrast, White-crowned Pigeon nests on mangrove islands are 1–2 m above ground (Strong et al. 1991). National Audubon Society personnel, FWC staff, and breeding-bird survey volunteers have all done extensive field work in the mainline Keys and had not detected any additional urban nesting prior to these observations (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission 2016b, Strong et al. 1991). Similarly, wildlife rehabilitators in the Florida Keys and in mainland Florida had never admitted any flightless White-crown Pigeon young to their facilities. More surveys are needed in southern Florida to determine if nesting in urban areas is an increasing trend or an anomaly. If the former is the case, future research should examine productivity of urban nests and their vulnerability to predation and human disturbance. This information may assist wildlife managers in adequately protecting White Crowned Pigeons in urban areas and may help with the management and recovery of this species. Acknowledgments. We thank C. Faulhaber, K. Miller, A. Strong, and anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Literature Cited Arendt, W.J., T.A. Vargas Mora, and J.W. Wiley. 1979. White-crowned Pigeon: Status rangewide and in the Dominican Republic. Proceedings from the Annual Conference of Southeast Associations of Fish and Wildlife Agencies 33:111–122. Bancroft, G.T. 1996. White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala). Pp. 258–266, In J.A. Rodgers Jr., H.W. Kale II, and H.T. Smit (Eds.). Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida, Volume V. Birds. University Press of Florida, Gainesville, FL. 688 pp. Bancroft, G.T., and R. Bowman. 2001. White-crowned Pigeon. No. 596, In A. Poole (ed.). The Birds of North America online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY. Available online at Accessed 5 February 2016. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2013. A species action plan for the White-crowned Pigeon. Tallahassee, FL. 27 pp. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2016a. Florida’s endangered and threatened species. Available online at species.pdf. Accessed 30 January 2017. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2016b. White-crowned Pigeon (Columba leucocephala) Breeding Bird Atlas. Available online at bba/docs/bba_WCPI.pdf. Accessed August 22, 2016 bba_WCPI.pdf. Accessed August 22, 2016. Prange, S., S. Gehrt, S., and E. Wiggers. 2003. Demographic factors contributing to high Raccoon densities in urban landscapes. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 67:324–333. Strong, A.M., R.J. Sawicki, and G.T. Bancroft. 1991. Effects of predator presence on the nesting distribution of White-crowned Pigeons in Florida Bay. Wilson Bulletin 103:415–425. Urban Naturalist R. Zambrano and T.F. Sweets 2017 No. 13 4 Wiley, J.W. 1979. The White-crowned Pigeon in Puerto Rico: Status, distribution, and movements. Journal of Wildlife Management 43:402–413. Wiley, J.W., and B.N. Wiley. 1979. The biology of the White-crowned Pigeon. Wildlife Monographs 64:3–54. Wilmers, T. 2011. Flight-line counts of nesting White-crowned Pigeons (Patagioenas leucocephala) and the impact of hurricanes in the Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges, 2000–2011. Technical report to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Big Pine Key, FL. 34 pp.