duck key

An Information Guide to Duck Key in the Florida Keys























White Crowned Pigeon on Duck Key

November 2005

Recently a number of the White-crowned Pigeons (Columba leucocephala) have been seen in flight or perched on utility wires or in trees on Center Island near Club Duck Key.

The White-crowned Pigeon is an Audubon Life bird and they nest in the U.S. only in extreme south Florida (Florida Keys) . Their principal habitate is the mangrove forests or tropical hardwood hammocks. White-crowned Pigeons also reside throughout the Caribbean islands, Bahamas, Coast of Central America, and Northwest Panama.

White-crowned Pigeons derive their name from their conspicuous white cap or crown. The rest of their plumage is slate gray. They have iridescent emerald feathers circling their necks.

They feed on seeds and fruit of blolly, fig, gumbo limbo, mastic, palm, pigeon plum, sea grape, and the Poisonwood tree, all plants which can be found on Duck Key. They also eat insects.


The White-crowned Pigeon breeds only in the mangrove swamps of the Florida Keys and, to a lesser extent, among the gumbo-limbo and mahogany trees of adjacent hardwood hammocks. They lay  one or two eggs in a nest constructed of twigs and lined with fibrous roots and grasses.

Since the White-crowned Pigeon was hunted in great numbers for food, protective laws were passed in 1913. Their number has increased and they have become tamer and less wary.


During April 1832, James Audubon visits mangrove islands, Sandy Key, and Cape Sable. Audubon first saw the White-Headed Pigeon, on Bahia-honda Duck Key.

The White-crowned Pigeon was painted by Audubon on Indian Key in April 1832.

 White-crowned Pigeon - ( White-Headed Pigeon)

The White Crowned Pigeons in the image above sit upon a bough of a Geiger tree. Audubon's assistant, George Lehman painted the Geiger tree also known as a Cordia tree, a tropical plant named for Key West resident, John H. Geiger.

 Part of what Audubon writes in his Ornithological Biography, Volume. II, pages 443-447, and 448 appear below:

"The White-headed Pigeon arrives on the Southern keys of the Floridas, from the island of Cuba about the 20th of April, sometimes not until the 1st of May, for the purpose of residing there for a season, and rearing its young. On the 30th of April, I shot several immediately after their arrival from across the Gulf Stream. "
. . .
"By the first of May, the young squabs are nearly able to fly, and it is this period that the greatest havoc is made among them. The fishermen and the wreckers visit the keys principally resorted to by this species, rifle all the nests they can find, and sometimes also shoot the older birds."

"The key on which I first saw this bird, lies about twenty-five miles (more like fifty) south of Indian Key, and is named Bahia-honda Duck Key"

Audubon wrote about the Cordia Tree,

"The Rough-leaved Cordia

This plant, on account of its large tubular scarlet flowers, is one of the most beautiful of the West Indian trees. I saw only two individuals at Key west, where we supposed, they had been introduced from Cuba. They were about fifteen feet high, the stem having a diameter of only five or six inches. They were in full bloom in the early part of may, and their broad deep green leaves, and splendid red blossoms, mingled with the variety of plants around me, rendered their appearance delightful. Both trees were on private property, and grew in a yard opposite to that of Dr. Strobel, through whose influence I procured a large bough, from which the drawing was made, with assistance of Mr. Lehman. I was informed that they continue to flower nearly the whole summer."



Back to [ Website Index] [ Main Community Index ]