Named for the British Monarch Queen Victoria, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon is without doubt a royal bird. Its dusty blue-grey feathers may remind one of the pigeons found on any city street, but the Crowned Pigeon's elegant blue lace crest, scarlet eyes, and rakish black mask are unlike anything you'll find pecking around in the city park. Add in the fact that this largest of all pigeons is nearly the size of a turkey, and you know you're seeing something special. The National Aviary is one of very few zoos that exhibit this species in pairs.
Victoria Crowned Pigeons like to be in pairs or small groups, wandering the forests of New Guinea in search of the seeds and fallen fruits that make up most of their diet. Males will sometimes spar with each other during the breeding season -- flaring their wings and puffing up their chests to look larger and more impressive for the females -- but they tend to live peacefully together the rest of the year. Groups of Crowned Pigeons spend most of their time on the ground, only flying up into the branches of trees when startled, or when they want somewhere safe to roost overnight.
In many ways, the Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the closest 21st Century humans will ever come to another famous species of pigeon, the Dodo. Dodos were also huge, ground-dwelling pigeons (larger even than the Victoria Crowned Pigeon), found only on a single island and completely unable to fly. Hunting by humans and the introduction of non-native predators drove the Dodo to extinction in less than 100 years. Today, hunting and habitat destruction has already extirpated the Victoria Crowned Pigeon from may of its traditional territories in New Guinea. And the population continues to fall. There are only an estimated 1,500 - 7,000 individual Victoria Crowned Pigeons remaining in the wild.