Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica)

Also known as: hackled pigeon, Nicobar dove, vulturine pigeon, white-tailed pigeon
Spanish: Paloma de Nicobar
GenusCaloenas (1)
SizeLength: 40 - 41 cm (2)
Weightc. 613 g (3)

The Nicobar pigeon is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

The closest living relative to the dodo (5), the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) looks very different from its flightless cousin. A large, mainly ground-dwelling bird, the Nicobar pigeon is the only member of its genus (2) (6). Due to a lack of natural predators and isolation on small islands, this species has been able to develop bright plumage, making it one of the more beautiful species among the pigeons and doves (6).

In appearance, the Nicobar pigeon far outshines the grey dodo, with dark green iridescent feathers on the body and a mantle of pointed, greenish-blue feathers which have coppery overtones. This species’ striking plumage is finished off with red legs and a conspicuous short white tail (6).

The female Nicobar pigeon is smaller than the male and can be distinguished by a white iris, as opposed to the brown iris of the adult male and of the juvenile. The juvenile Nicobar pigeon can also be recognised by its dark tail and lack of iridescence (7).

The Nicobar pigeon is a strong flier and therefore has a fairly large range (8). It is a small island specialist, found mainly in South East Asia and the Pacific, from the Indian Nicobar Islands eastward to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea (7).

Despite its wide distribution, the Nicobar pigeon is generally scarce throughout its range, and is most abundant on the smaller, less disturbed islands (8).

The Nicobar pigeon prefers to breed in dense colonies on small, wooded, offshore islands, and forages on the islands or on the adjacent mainland in large areas of lowland rainforest. This species is typically found at elevations of up to at least 500 metres (9).

The Nicobar pigeon moves around in flocks during the day, spending the majority of its time on the forest floor, foraging for seeds, berries, large nuts, fruits and insects (2) (3). Like other doves and pigeons, it drinks by submerging its beak and sucking up water, rather than by sipping (2).

The Nicobar pigeon is monogamous and pairs typically mate for life (2). During courtship, the male performs a bowing display in which the plumage is erected. Similarly, the neck plumage may also be raised during aggressive interactions (10).

The Nicobar pigeon probably breeds year-round. Once a nesting site has been selected, usually in a tree or bush a few metres off the ground, a nest is constructed. The nest consists of an untidy collection of twigs, and is often accompanied by other nests in the same tree (2) (10).

The female Nicobar pigeon lays a single white egg, which is long and elliptical in shape. The egg is incubated by both adults and hatches after around two and a half weeks. The chick is initially helpless and fed a rich crop milk fluid, regurgitated by the adults, who continue to tend the chick until it fledges at about three months (2) (10).

Although its exact population size is unclear, the Nicobar pigeon is known to be undergoing a slow decline in numbers. The clearance of many small islands and adjacent areas of lowland forest for plantations has severely reduced both the preferred breeding and foraging habitats of this bird. The introduction of non-native predators such as rats and cats on important breeding grounds has exacerbated the effects of habitat loss, especially as the Nicobar pigeon nests in large aggregations (9).

Hunting and trapping for food, the pet trade and possibly its gizzard stones has also had a serious impact on the numbers of this species (9).

The Nicobar pigeon is listed under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits international trade in specimens of this species (4).

Further conservation measures for the Nicobar pigeon have been proposed, but are yet to be enacted. These include further research into its population sizes and trends, and protection of its known breeding grounds and nearby foraging areas from clearance for plantations. Educating people who live near the Nicobar pigeon has also been suggested, to help prevent trapping for food and the pet trade, and this species would also benefit from the eradication of non-native predators at key breeding sites (10).

Find out more about the Nicobar pigeon and its conservation:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (August, 2011)
  2. Birding in India and South Asia - Nicobar Pigeon (August, 2011)
  3. McNab, B.K. (2000) The influence of body mass, climate, and distribution on the energetics of South Pacific pigeons. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, 127: 309-329.
  4. CITES (August, 2011)
  5. Shapiro, B. et. al. (2002) Flight of the dodo. Science, 295: 1683.
  6. Steadman, D.W. (1997) The historic biogeography and community ecology of Polynesian pigeons and doves. Journal of Biogeography, 24: 737-753.
  7. Bell, K.J. (1981) Breeding and hand-rearing the Nicobar pigeon Caloenas nicobarica at the Lincoln Park Zoological Gardens. Journal of Zoo Animal Medicine, 16: 68.
  8. McNab, B.K. (1994) Resource use and the survival of land and freshwater vertebrates on oceanic islands. The American Naturalist, 144: 643-660.
  9. BirdLife International (August, 2011)
  10. Gibbs, D. et. al. (2001) Pigeons and Doves: A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World. Pica Press, Sussex.