I’ve just revised the Dove and Pigeon galleries on the website () and it set me thinking how many gorgeous members of this family occur in Australia. Some, like the Fruit-Doves, are spectacularly so, while others are more subtle. The subtler ones included the Bronzewings and their allies such as the Crested and Spinifex Pigeons, a group of several genera endemic to Australia and New Guinea.
The Bronzewings get their name from iridescent feathers in their wing coverts. These are shown in display and at other times are not conspicuous unless the light is at the right angle, rather like the iridescent feathers of hummingbirds. The first photo shows a Brush Bronzewing which has two rows of iridescent feathers, one reddish and the other bluish green. The second photo shows a Common Bronzewing at sunset and it has several rows of bronze-green feathers and one dark blue row. This bird is a female; male Common Bronzewings have even brighter feathers.
The Brush Bronzewing occurs in scrub and forest in coastal southern Australia from Fraser Island in Queensland to Dongara in Western Australia, including Tasmania. The Common Bronzewing is widespread throughout Australia except in the driest areas such as eastern Western Australia. The Common Bronzewing in particular is wary and takes flight readily, so often the best way to observe it is at water holes. This one was photographed last Sunday while we were sitting quietly near a dam; at least 50 Common Bronzewings came in to drink and this one perched nervously on a post quite close to us before proceeding down to the water.
Best wishes, Ian
Ian’s remark about the “Common Bronzewing in particular is wary and takes flight readily” caught my eye. Also Wikipedia says, “They tend to browse quietly until disturbed, then remain still, their earthy browns blending into the earth and leaf litter until the intruder approaches too closely, at which point the bronzewing takes off with an explosive burst of sudden wing clapping and feather noise, and disappears from sight within moments.” Both remarks reminded me of scripture.
They will walk after the LORD, He will roar like a lion; Indeed He will roar And His sons will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt And like doves from the land of Assyria; And I will settle them in their houses, declares the LORD. (Hosea 11:10-11 NASB)
Why do the birds tremble and seem wary of people. The reason is that God put in them the fear of man after the global flood in Noah’s day.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. Romans 1:20
The fact that they blend in to their surroundings is part of the Lord’s creative love for the birds. He provides for their protection.
Here is some more information about the “Bronzewing Pigeon” according to Wikipedia:
The dividing line between the bronzewings and the rock pigeons is arbitrary: essentially, rock pigeons are bronzewings without bronze on their wings. Members of the group include:
* The Common Bronzewing (Phaps calcoptera) is a large, bulky pigeon with a small head, found in all parts of Australia bar some of the deep desert, Cape York Peninsula, and urban areas. Its advertising call is an extraordinary mournful whooo repeated at metronomic intervals for an interminable length of time. Although rather wary by nature, birds in the urban fringes become quite used to humans.
* The Brush Bronzewing (Phaps elegans) is uncommon, probably threatened. Marginally smaller than the Common Bronzewing and rather secretive—except for its call, which is slightly faster and higher-pitched but maintained through the hottest days with equally monotonous determination. Brush Bronzewings nest low down, often on the ground, and are very vulnerable to feral cats and foxes.
* Flock Bronzewings (Phaps histrionica) roam the grasslands of the northern half of the continent. Once found in enormous flocks, they are still to be seen in their thousands. Pizzey’s description of their habits is memorable: “When locally abundant, at end of day, undulating, shearwater-like flocks fly to water, settle short distance away, and walk in. Thirsty latecomers may drop directly into water and drink while spreadeagled, before springing off.”
* Crested Pigeons (Ocyphaps lophotes) are distinctive, common, and widespread. Usually seen in small flocks in open woodlands or grasslands, it is always close to water. With the clearing of much forest and the provision of water in arid regions for cattle, Crested Pigeons have increased in number.
* The Spinifex Pigeon (Geophaps plumifera) is an unmistakable ground-dwelling small pigeon, reddish-bronze in colour and prominently crested, with a unique upright, military stance. When dirturbed it prefers to run erratically, breaking into rapid, noisy flight only if pressed. A desert specialist, it is found in the arid and semi-arid zones of the northern half of the continent.
* The Partridge Pigeon (Geophaps smithii) is a dull brown bird about 26 cm long found only in pairs or small flocks in the grasslands of northern Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.
* The Squatter Pigeon (Geophaps scripta), like the very similar Partridge Pidgeon, spends feeds, roosts, and nests on the ground, and prefers infertile sandy soils and gravel where the grass grows only thinly, allowing easy movement. Squatter Pigeons are restricted to the eastern half of Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales.
Some interesting articles about iridescent colors on birds and butterflies:
From Blue-t-ful Beetles, Birds, `n Butterflies, this quote:
“The strikingly iridescent blue seen in some butterfly, beetle, and bird feathers is well-known and enjoyed by scientists and laymen alike. This is due to creatures (and some plants) reflecting or absorbing certain frequencies of light due to the external chemical composition of their body. In past decades, it has been realized that although the color of these structures is clearly and unusually blue—no blue pigment can be found!
The South American butterfly, Morpho rhetenor, has wings composed of extremely tiny scales like all members of the Lepidoptera. Biologists magnified scales of the upper wing surface 20,000 times and saw “a regular grid of precisely constructed wedge-shaped ridges spaced at intervals of about 0.00022 mm. This pattern is repeated so accurately that the maximum deviation is only 0.00002 mm. No earthly workshop specializing in miniaturization [nanotechnology], would be able to make one single wing scale with this required precision.“1 Detailed investigation of other butterflies reveals iridescence due to “nanoscale structures that produce ultra-high reflectivity and narrow-band spectral purity.”
From God’s Rainbow in Living Color by Catherine Myers:
Butterflies’ wings are covered with tiny scales that create their colors and patterns. Under a microscope, the tiny scales resemble roofing tiles that overlap in different patterns.
Wing colors originate from two sources—pigmentation (color in the scale itself) or iridescence (light from the sun that changes color as it bends within the scales). Earth tones (brown, orange, yellow, white, and black) come from pigments. Iridescent colors (blue, green, copper, silver, and gold) arise from special scales that bend light into different colors. Because the scales act like a prism and separate light into different wavelengths, some butterflies actually appear to change color during flight.