The beautiful plumage of the male maroon pigeon looks stunning against the lush, green backdrop of its rainforest habitat. The male is primarily dark maroon, with a slate-grey head and dark grey outer wing feathers. White spots speckle the breast and wings. Maroon pigeons exhibit striking sexual dimorphism, with females having dark ashy-grey plumage, brownish wings (2), and just a tinge of maroon on the breast (3). Both sexes of this heavily built bird have a yellow bill, legs and feet (3).
Also known as
São Tomé maroon pigeon, São Tomé olive pigeon, São Tomé pigeon.
This tree-dwelling pigeon can be found in small groups, feeding in the canopy of lowland and montane forests. Little is known about the biology and ecology of the maroon pigeon, but it has been observed taking berries from the montane tree Scheffleria mannii(2). Despite being extensively hunted, this incredibly docile bird has not developed a fear of man and will allow people to approach closely (3).
Found on the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea where, at present, it is principally found in the higher elevation forests around the Pica mountains. Historically, the maroon pigeon was also found on Rolas, a tiny island lying south of São Tomé (2).
The maroon pigeon inhabits primary lowland and montane rainforests (2). It can be found from sea level up to 2,024 metres, but on the eastern part of São Tomé it is only found above 1,300 metres (4). It presumably enters secondary forest and clearings to feed (2)
On the island of São Tomé, large areas of forest have been cleared for coffee and cocoa plantations. Today, remaining primary and secondary forest continue to be cleared for cultivation, timber and fuelwood (5). This habitat destruction has greatly reduced the range of the maroon pigeon, and continues to force it into an ever decreasing area of montane forest (2). Coupled with the impact of habitat loss is the ever-present threat of hunting. Their docile nature makes them an easy target and they are also lured closer by fires lit by hunters (2). The maroon pigeon’s extinction on Rolas shows how such threats can impact on the species and gives a grim insight of what may happen on São Tomé if action is not taken.
Strict protection of the maroon pigeon and its remaining habitat is vital if this species is to survive (4). Protected zones of primary forest and the establishment of a National Park on São Tomé have been proposed (6), and a new law regarding the protection of areas and threatened species awaits ratification (5). It is hoped that these essential measures are implemented before the attractive maroon pigeon no longer adorns the forests of São Tomé.
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