Sunday Species Spotlight: Nicobar Pigeon

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

Every week we will be highlighting and exploring a new species. Birds from exotic places, birds with unique traits, incredible rarities, and some species that can be found in your backyard!

Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica)

The Nicobar Pigeon is an unusual and colorful species of pigeon. They are large, averaging 16" in length with the females being slightly smaller than the males. Their coloring has a grey appearance in the shade, but they have developed vibrant, iridescent plumage full of blues, golds, and greens, due to being isolated on small islands with no natural predators or need for camouflage. Their legs have a reddish coloring, and there is small amount of white at bottom of the tail, that is thought to help birds spot each other at dawn and dusk. Males and females are similar in appearance. Females have a smaller bill knob, shorter hackles, and more brown coloring underneath. Young birds have a black tail, lack the distinct hackles, and have almost no iridescence in their plumage.

These birds are the only remaining member of the Caloenas genus. There is one subspecies of Nicobar Pigeon living in Palau, the C. n. pelewensis, that is indistinguishable except for the slightly shorter neck hackles. Genetic analysis has led to the suggestion that they are also the closest living relative to the extinct flightless bird subfamily, Raphinae, which includes the famous dodo bird.

Flocks can be found on small islands and some coastal regions. They seek out wooded areas with thick vegetation. It's range includes most of the Indo-Australasian region, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Palau, and islands near Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. In 2017, the first Australian sightings of the bird were reported in the Western region near Kimberley.

While the exact population number is unknown, the species is considered near threatened due to deforestation and habitat destruction, as well as non-native predators such as rats and cats being released on the islands. They are also hunted in large numbers for food and for their gizzard stones (used in jewelry), and have been trapped and sold in illegal pet markets.

Small flocks will travel together from island to island to feed. They prefer to feed on the ground, with a diet consisting of seeds, grains, fruits, and buds. Individuals are very vocal to other flock members, making a repetitive and low-pitched croak sound to communicate.

They sleep and nest on offshore islets to avoid the non-native predators. Pairs mate for life, building loosely constructed nests in trees using sticks. They lay just one egg, oval and blueish-white in color. Both parents will incubate and feed the chick until it is ready to leave the nest.

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