The baldpates are in town. And I don’t mean little old men with shiny heads (although a lot of young men in Kingston seem to think that shaving all their hair off is fashionable and attractive – the Petchary is tired of looking at lumps and bumps and ugly-shaped heads that could be disguised with a little bit of hair). Ugh. But that’s another story.
The Jamaican baldpate is, by its rightful name, the White-Crowned Pigeon. It deserves this regal name, because it is a splendid bird, large and heavy, with glossy plumage as blue/black as a deep bruise. It is common in Jamaica – mostly in country areas, but we have a resident pair here in the middle of Kingston. Here is one posing at the very top of our guango tree…
But one sad thing about our lovely Baldpate. Although he has been common and widespread, numbers have declined quite precipitously because of “severe over-hunting” according to “A Guide to Birds of the West Indies” by Raffaele et al (my bird-watching bible). This means the privileged upper-class Jamaicans, mainly from Kingston, get into their pumped-up, gas-guzzling SUVs on weekends during the bird-shooting season. They try to frighten small flocks of birds and then, in great excitement, pepper the air (and rain down on the roofs of local residents) with birdshot. What is the point? Well, we have to indulge the rich with their little blood sports, it seems. After all, many of them are politicians. And many of them are young men, carrying on Daddy’s tradition.
And this bird is listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. They will soon drop the “near,” one supposes. These things don’t go backwards too often, they progress.
Let’s learn a bit more about the prey of Kingston’s young and feckless, who are never happier than when they appear on the “social pages” of our local newspapers (do national dailies in other countries have social pages? No, I think not. They have news).
The White-Crowned Pigeon is a powerful flyer. He can commute some 28 miles in each direction between its roosting and feeding grounds. Which may explain why they are now appearing in the city rather more often. They are just feeding here, and fly home at night.
He makes a “distinctive low, purring sound.” Almost hypnotic on a warm spring afternoon in our back yard.
He should now be in the breeding season (March to August), so I am scanning the yard for a “flimsy twig nest in a large tree” – our guango, perhaps? Apparently, though, his favorite home site is mangrove or dry scrub. Not much of the former left here in Jamaica – the Spanish hotels saw to that.
There is no place for it in Jamaica. We are too small, our natural resources too scarce and too fragile. Bird-shooting is perhaps not considered a very serious threat to the environment, but it is just one more little stress on our biodiversity, or what is left of it.
In the United States, a “baldpate” is a duck called the American Widgeon.
A charming little bird, but lacking the splendor and the gravitas of the Caribbean Baldpate – beautiful, and persecuted.