Ring-Tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas caribaea): The Wood Pigeon Pretty as a Jamaican Stamp

by DerdriuMarriner

Ring-tailed pigeons are Caribbean island birds. They can be seen as super-rare strays in Puerto Rico. They otherwise remain native only to Jamaica.

Ring-tailed pigeons (Patagioenas caribaea) are New World natives with a specific homeland, the Caribbean island of Jamaica.

Forest and woodland areas in the "Land of Wood and Water" (Taíno: Xaymaca) especially attract ring-tailed pigeons, who are called Jamaican wood pigeons because of their preferences for moist, wooded habitats.

Specifically, ring-tailed pigeons favor the Blue and John Crow mountains of eastern Jamaica and the northern interior's historic Cockpit Country.

High seasonability in the ring-tailed pigeon's foraging habits and flocking patterns impact the accuracy of population demographic assessments.

Conservationists regard ring-tailed pigeons as vulnerable because of declining populations and decreasing ranges since the mid-nineteenth century.

Habitat loss through bauxite mining significantly threatens the ring-tailed pigeon's habitats in west-central Jamaica.

ring-tailed pigeon: pigeon of Jamaica

Jamaica's Blue Mountains
Jamaica's Blue Mountains


The genus Patagioenas to which the ring-tailed pigeon belongs currently arises in the Western Hemisphere. Ornithologists conjecture as American-born the ancestors of all living doves and pigeons. They consider that the worldwide distribution of the Columbidae family expresses the emigrations of doves and pigeons from New World habitats to niches in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They do not exclude the possibility of subsequent transatlantic returns to the Americas. They hypothesize that the 17 species within Patagioenas descend from an American avian born to Eurasian-born avians returning to the New World. They offer as convincing evidence the fact that the genus has as close relatives the cuckoo dove genus Macropygia of Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, and Vanuatu.

Scientific breakthroughs and technological advances allow ornithologists to group the ring-tailed pigeon’s genus into four groups. Membership answers to genetic, structural, and vocal criteria. Ring-tailed pigeons belong to the band-tailed group along with:
• The extinct, fossil-evidenced species P. micula;
• Two fellow living species.

The three extant species exhibit similarities in:
• Iridescent necks;
• Low, singly-emitted coos;
• Terminally-banded tails.

They feature far less diversity than:
• The Cayenne (cayennensis) group’s four species calling out double or triple coos;
• The lead-colored (plumbea) group’s four small-billed, small-sized species emitting high single coos and possessing plain plumage and rounded tails;
• The white-headed (leucocephala) group of six species sounding triple coos and showcasing iridescent necks with dark plumage, scaly looks, or white-edged outer-wing cover-feathers.


Band-tailed pigeon is one of ring-tailed pigeon's closest relatives:

unlike endemic ring-tailed pigeons, band-tailed pigeons have huge range, stretching from British Columbia south to northern Argentina.
band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) in Arizona
band-tailed pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) in Arizona


The designation ring-tailed pigeon acts as one of three main common names for the bird. Two other frequently employed, non-scientific terms are the following:

  • Jamaican band-tailed pigeon;
  • Ring-tailed wood pigeon.

The ringed-tail also carries the current scientific name Patagioenas caribaea. Scientists credit Nikolaus Joseph Freiherr von Jacquin (February 16, 1727 – October 26, 1817) with the first known European attempts at official descriptions and taxonomic nomenclatures. The Leiden-born scientist gathered animal, mineral, and plant samples during an expedition ordered by Francis I (December 8, 1708 – August 18, 1765) for 1755 - 1759. Destinations included Central America and the West Indies. The Holy Roman Emperor intended the specimens to augment exotic and recreational wildlife collections at his Schönbrunn (“beautiful spring”) palace.


Vienna's exquisite Schönbrunn Palace:

served as elegant showplace for exotic wildlife collected by Baron Jacquin on expeditions to West Indies and Central America.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna


The palace dates back to the 17th century even though the surrounding grounds belonged to Holy Roman Emperors since the 16th century. Maximilian II (July 31, 1527 – October 12, 1576) obtained the property in 1569. He and his successors occupied the Kattenberg mansion, whose construction dated to 1548. The lands offered imperial opportunities for recreational fishing, hunting, and wildlife-watching of:

  • Boars and deer;
  • Ducks, peafowl, pheasants, and turkeys.

The mansion sheltered imperial families until the palace’s construction between 1638 and 1643. The palace was built -- and named in a 1642-issued invoice -- to accommodate the widowhood of Eleonora Gonzaga (September 23, 1598 – June 27, 1655), second wife of Ferdinand II (July 9, 1578 – February 15, 1637).


With music and science as his passions, Baron Nikolaus Jacquin first described the ring-tailed pigeon and performed in-house concerts with his children and their music teacher, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

portrait by Heinrich Friedrich Füger (December 8, 1751 – November 5, 1818)
portrait by Heinrich Friedrich Füger (December 8, 1751 – November 5, 1818)


It may have been not only eminently practical but also particularly enjoyable for Baron Nikolaus von Jacquin -- entitled in 1806 -- to collect and identify fauna and flora.  The expedition resulted in lifelong respect from Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707- January 10, 1778), father of modern ecology and taxonomy. Specimens from, publications on, and drawings of coastal northern South American and insular Caribbean wildlife served to ensure the scientist’s career as:

  • Botany and Chemistry Professor at the University of Vienna in 1768;
  • Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences foreign member-elect in 1783.

His professional reputation was such that his son Joseph Franz Freiherr von Jacquin (February 7, 1766 – October 26, 1839) received both positions, in 1797 and 1821.


The baron must have relished listening to and writing about the calls of such melodious New World denizens as ring-tailed pigeons. He in fact passed his other great love -- for music -- to his younger children. Super-talented composer and musician Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791) performed house concerts -- such as that launching the Kegelstatt Trio, K. 498 -- with Franziska Jacquin (1769 – 1850) as pianist and Nikolaus as flutist. He permitted two original songs to be published under Emil Gottfried Jacquin’s (1767 – 1792) name:

  • Als Luise … (“As Louise…”), K. 520, for piano and voice;

  • Das Traumbild (“The Dream-picture”), K. 530.

He was Franziska’s piano teacher. 


Musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart performed house concerts with scientist Baron Jacquin, who first described ring-tailed pigeons in 1784, and the Baron's two children.

Wolfgang with his sister Maria Anna (July 30, 1751 - October 29, 1829) and father Leopold (November 14, 1719 - May 28, 1787), on the wall a portrait of his deceased mother Anna Maria (December 25, 1720 - July 3, 1778)
ca. 1780 portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce (1736 - 1819) ~ Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg, northwestern Austria
ca. 1780 portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce (1736 - 1819) ~ Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg, northwestern Austria


The ring-tailed pigeon's vocalizations are recognizable as guttural to the least trained of musical ears. They begin with two sounds:

  • Cru-cru, followed by a descending croooo;

  • U-hu, succeeded by an emphatic coooo.

They can create spectacular effects when ringed-tails communicate while clustering in large numbers. Ring-tail pigeons congregate in large flocks for:

  • Feeding;

  • Flying;

  • Roosting.

Flocks enjoy feeding upon fruits and seeds high up in the canopy of forest edges and montane forests. They seasonally fly from higher to lower altitudes and back in pursuit of differing ripening times of cultivated and wild fruits. They nest high up in the taller trees of moist subtropical and tropical forests. Flying and roosting result in greater congregations than foraging.


Yet this same flocking and this very seasonality cause ring-tailed populations to be considered vulnerably unknown. Research disagrees on the degree of vulnerability. Researchers employ different criteria in different locales. For example, a ten-hour monitoring from 1991 furnishes hourly counts of 13 - 32. Estimated occupancy rates of one to six per 1,420-square kilometer (548.27-square mile) area inspire minimum calculated population totals between 425 and 2,5000 and upper-range projections between 8,950 and 10,000. Some specialists suggest that the total ringed-tail distribution may involve a 7,100-square kilometer (2,741.3-square mile) area. But whatever the criteria or results, experts tend to agree that the trend from the mid-19th century, throughout the 20th, and into the 21st continues toward:

  • Declining ranges;

  • Decreasing habitats;

  • Diminished populations.   


ring-tailed pigeon in habitat

Cockpit Country: northern inland Jamaica
Cockpit Country: northern inland Jamaica


Despite the intrusiveness of group behaviors and low-toned vocalizations, ring-tailed pigeons amaze viewers with their alternating high- and low-profile visibility. The potential for the immobile, silent ringed-tail to pass undetected exists despite the Jamaican native's medium size and showier colors. The camouflage slightly favors females and juveniles over males. The immature ringed-tail in fact gives bark-like impressions which aid in survival in the forest canopy. Juveniles have brown and grey bodies. The exception is a fruity red which fringes the non-adult's upper wings and which turns red-orange on the head and the upper body. The parents locate the nest high enough that the sight and sound of a newborn, hatchling or dlegling does not filter easily ground-ward.


Adults attain mature head-and-body lengths of 41 centimeters (41 inches). The adult male displays blue and grey coloring on the upper body. His head and lower body exhibit a pink and brown coloring. The male adult has an iridescently blue and grey hindneck. The female adult is much the same in color even though the overall impact is duller-sheened. But regardless of gender, every ring-tailed pigeon may be described as:

  • Black-banded across the upper tail;

  • Black-beaked;

  • Pale-banded across the lower tail;

  • Red-clawed;

  • Red-eyed;

  • Red eye-ringed.

Likewise regardless of gender, all ring-tailed pigeons recall to viewers the different-specied plain pigeon (Patagioenas inornata). Lack of tail-banding and possession of white wings nevertheless will confirm the plain pigeon's identity.


Ring-tailed Pigeon distribution in homeland of Jamaica

Jamaica and insert of location of Jamaica within Caribbean Sea
Jamaica and insert of location of Jamaica within Caribbean Sea

Conclusion: Sustainable environments for ring-tailed pigeons


Ring-tailed pigeons commit to definite habitats. They crave:

  • Humid atmospheres;

  • Moist grounds;

  • Undisturbed woods;

  • Variable elevations.

At 328.08- to 6561.68-foot (100-2,000-meter) elevations, they find proper configurations in:

  • Forested highlands;

  • Limestone forests;

  • Low-lying woodlands.

They in fact function nomadically between two homelands, one highland and the other lowland. Notwithstanding highland breeding spring to summer, every February to August, the elusive bird's nomadism makes detection difficult for scientists if not for:

  • Agro-industrialists;

  • Hunters;

  • Loggers;

  • Miners;

  • Poachers.

Wildlife-lovers and wildlife-scientists need to find ways to study and support Jamaica's most elusive pigeon. Sustainability starts with two steps:

  • Enforcing national park status to the Blue and John Crow Mountains;

  • Protecting flyways between the ring-tail's highland and lowland homes. 


Jamaica's beautiful Blue Mountains: a favorite habitat for ring-tailed pigeons;

also source for Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, one of the world's most sought after and most expensive coffee.
View of the Blue Mountain Range looking into St. Mary Parish from St. Andrew Parish.
View of the Blue Mountain Range looking into St. Mary Parish from St. Andrew Parish.



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Bauxite mining deprives ring-tailed pigeons of their habitats in historic Cockpit Country, an inland geographical region in northwestern-central Jamaica.

"Central Jamaica, Off main road running South from Discovery Bay. Somewhere in Cockpit Country."
"Central Jamaica, Off main road running South from Discovery Bay. Somewhere in Cockpit Country."

Sources Consulted


BirdLife International. (2012). "Patagoienas caribaea." IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/22690281/0

BirdLife International. (2014). "Species factsheet: Ring-tailed Pigeon Patagoienas caribaea." Threatened Birds of the World. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=2483

Cheke A.S. (2005). "Naming segregates from the Columba–Streptopelia pigeons following DNA studies on phylogeny." Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club 125(4):293-295 

Johnson K.P.; de Kort S.; Dinwoodey K.; Mateman A. C.; ten Cate C.; Lessells C. M.; Clayton D.H. (2001). "A molecular phylogeny of the dove genera Streptopelia and Columba." Auk 118(4): 874-878. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.inhs.uiuc.edu/~kjohnson/kpj_pdfs/Auk.2001.pdf

Mahler B.; Tubaro P.L. (2001). "Relationship between song characters and morphology in New World pigeons." Biological Journal of the Linnaean Society 74(4):533–539. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

Peterson A.P. (2012). "Columbiformes." Zoonomen. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.zoonomen.net/avtax/colu.html

"Pigeon de Jamaïque (Patagioenas caribaea) (Jacquin, 1784)." Avibase the world bird database managed by D. Lepage. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://avibase.bsc-eoc.org/species.jsp?avibaseid=05E3F3DF20B0A2C9

"Sandgrouse and Pigeons Order Columbiformes: Pigeons, Doves Family Columbidae." In: IOC World Bird List, version 4.1, edited by F. Fill and D. Donsker. International Ornithologists' Union, 2014. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://www.worldbirdnames.org/n-sandgrouse.html

Schulenberg T.S. (Ed.). (2010). "Ring-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas caribaea)". Neotropical Birds Online. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved on February 2, 2014.

  • Available at: http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=171061



ring-tailed pigeon in St Andrews Parish, southeastern Jamaica

Mine Kerb, near Lime Tree Farm, Blue Mountains
Mine Kerb, near Lime Tree Farm, Blue Mountains



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/15/2014, DerdriuMarriner
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


DerdriuMarriner on 02/03/2014

Mira, Thank you! It is always fascinating to discover the degree of engagement with life's many layers, especially as evinced in the achievements, interests, and passions of those who've made a commitment to appreciating and understanding the natural world.

Mira on 02/03/2014

Nice article, Derdriu! I like not only these pigeons but also your take on the subject, as Kathleen mentioned.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/02/2014

Kathleen, Your appreciation of my "all-encompassing approach" is greatly appreciated. The accomplishments of so many naturalists are inspirational for me, especially when they balance scientific pursuits with appreciation of the arts. In particular I appreciate the interaction of Wolfgang Mozart with Baron Jacquin and the baron's children: his encouragement of the family's musical interests is a memorable measure of his greatness as a person and as a musical genius.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/02/2014

VioletteRose, Endemic fauna and flora have special fascination for me. Their lives seem premised on a fragile future.
Me, too, I appreciate that these Jamaican pigeons are "beautiful birds."

KathleenDuffy on 02/02/2014

I do so enjoy your detailed articles. I particularly like the way you link up the bird life with the bigger social picture, i.e. the botanists and naturalists of the day and their interests such as music etc. It's an all-encompassing approach which I really enjoy.

VioletteRose on 02/02/2014

Very informative, they are beautiful birds.

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