White-crowned Pigeons (Columba leucocephala) varied their timing of breeding and nesting intensity in response to variation in production of the four most important fruit species in their breeding-season diet in the upper Florida Keys. From 1988 through 1990, we monitored fruit production year-round in five habitats in which pigeons foraged and monitored all pigeon nests along two transects on Middle Butternut Key. Annually, pigeon breeding was positively correlated with summer rains and with the peak in overall fruit production. However, within the breeding season, only the availability of Metopium toxiferum was positively correlated with rainfall and the number of new clutches initiated. Both the timing and magnitude of breeding varied annually. In 1988, when Metopium was more available, more pigeons nested, the nesting season started earlier and lasted longer, and a large peak in nesting occurred when Metopium fruit ripened. During 1989 and 1990, when the relative availability of Metopium was lower, fewer pigeons nested, the nesting season was shorter, and the seasonal peak in nesting associated with Metopium fruit was reduced or absent. Nesting patterns did not appear to vary with changes in the relative availability of other fruits. White-crowned Pigeons appear to prefer Metopium fruits to other species. Because pigeons do not supplement nestling diets with arthropods, but augment their diets with protein-rich crop milk, they may depend on lipid-rich fruits such as Metopium to provide the energy for breeding and crop-milk production. Metopium fruit production may be influenced by rainfall and climatic conditions, both of which may vary spatially within the range of White-crowned Pigeons in Florida. Evidence that pigeons shift foraging sites when Metopium availability varies emphasizes the need to preserve large tracts of seasonal deciduous forest in the Keys and to protect Metopium trees in suburban areas where they are removed because they cause contact dermatitis in humans.
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