These pigeons have been the bane of my life lately—I could never get close to one even though they flap round regularly in Sydney in summer—but I find them fascinating: they look so exotically eccentric. A topknot pigeon is a conventional grey pigeon except that it has a red beak and eyes, and a forward grey crest like a bulbous forehead as well as a trailing red/brown ponytail crest. Here’s what one looks like:
For a couple of years I have been seeing them around North Sydney, always flying swiftly overhead in the middle distance or, more usually, the distant distance. This was about the best view I ever got:
Then late in 2018 from our house I saw some unusual birds flying into a eucalypt – still in the middle distance, of course. I got a couple of shots before they departed, and the enlarged pics then revealed that they were indeed topknots. It was a fair-sized flock – I counted over 30 in this image, many of them partially obscured by foliage.
There the matter rested until a contact told me she’d seen and photographed some at Jerrara Dam, inland from Kiama. So when I went on my South Coast trip last week, I allowed time for a brief diversion to Jerrara on the way home. Sure enough, there was a couple in a large fig tree, including the one in the pic at the top of this post. This bird checked me out carefully:
It then vented its opinion of bird photographers before flying off.
The second pigeon remained hidden in the foliage, but I still left for home happy that I had at last broken the hoodoo and got some good photos of these birds. That was on the lucky Friday 13th.
5 days later I went for a walk to Waverton, and about a kilometre from our house I saw this in a fig tree.
It clambered about, always fairly high up, showing a fair bit of agility for such a large pigeon as it selected and ate the riper figs.
It then took a break from feeding to survey me:
I went home to review my photos, and the next day went down there again. This time, there were several pigeons in the trees, although they were hard to pick out through the thick foliage. However one paused on an open branch to see what I was doing before resuming its grazing:
This bird’s topknot was longer than the previous day’s pigeon, with a more unruly “I just washed my hair and can’t do a thing with it” look.
It didn’t find much on this branch, and moved to another one nearby where it proceeded to pick the ripe fruit bare:
It then flew off with a typically noisy clatter of wings. It is this clatter that betrays the presence of otherwise invisible topknots in dense foliage—that and the regular fall of rejected figs and droppings.
As I was leaving, another bird gave me a quizzical look – they seem to be a topknot specialty:
Back home it was my turn for a quizzical look, at the bird books. They confirm that Topknot Pigeons (Lopholaimus antarcticus) really are big pigeons, weighing between 470-600g. Compare this to the common feral pigeon (Rock Dove or Columbia livia) which is 220-360g or the Crested Pigeon (Ocyphaps lophotes) at 145-260g. The topknot sexes are similar, but males tend to have a longer crest and less streaking on their chest.
They are found east of the Divide, all the way from Cape York down into Victoria, and are nomadic, moving as different trees come into fruit. This is why topknots are usually only seen around North Sydney during summer and into autumn, when the fig trees are in fruit (the feral camphor laurel is another favourite). They nest high up in tall trees some distance away from food sources, which is why they’re more usually seen on the wing. This was certainly my experience until very recently.