Nilgiri wood-pigeon (Columba elphinstonii)

Also known as: Nilgiri wood pigeon
GenusColumba (1)
SizeLength: 42 cm (2)
Weight383 g (2)

The Nilgiri wood-pigeon is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The most striking feature of the beautiful Nilgiri wood-pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) is the black and white checkerboard pattern on the back of its neck. Unlike its sometimes unpopular urban cousin, the rock pigeon (Columba livia), which is a familiar inhabitant of cities and parks, the Nilgiri wood-pigeon is a rather more rare bird, endemic to the Western Ghats in India (2).

The adult male Nilgiri wood-pigeon has dark brown or black plumage with a wonderful maroon sheen on its upperparts (2) and a darker grey or black chest and tail. Its face is also grey. The female and juvenile Nilgiri wood pigeons are slightly less glossy, lacking the metallic sheen to some degree, but otherwise appear very similar to the adult male (3).

The Nilgiri wood-pigeon is one of only 16 bird species endemic to the Western Ghats of south-western India (4). Its range stretches from north-western Maharashtra, south through to Karnataka and Goa, to southern Kerala and western Tamil Nadu (5).

The Nilgiri wood-pigeon inhabits moist evergreen and semi-evergreen forest, including densely wooded ravines and hollows known as ‘sholas’. It occurs primarily in foothills and mountains, up to 2,250 metres above sea level (5). It may also be found in Eucalyptus and Pinus plantations, but does not breed in these habitats (5).

Usually found moving about in the daytime, alone or in pairs, the Nilgiri wood-pigeon feeds primarily on fruit, which it forages for in the upper and middle canopy of the forest. It also eat seeds, flowers, plant buds (6) and, less frequently, small invertebrates and snails (2). Although it usually simply picks these food items off a plant, it is also known to throw itself forward to gain fruit from an out-of-reach branch (2).

The breeding season of the Nilgiri wood pigeon stretches from March to July (5). Each clutch typically contains just a single egg and the chick is fed on ‘crop milk’, a secretion from the thickened lining of a pouch in the bird’s gullet. Both the male and female produce this highly nutritious substance to feed the young (2).

In the past, the Nilgiri wood-pigeon was threatened by hunting for sport and food. Today, the major threat to this species is habitat destruction (5).

The clearance of land for agriculture and human settlements, combined with the cutting down of trees for fuel and building materials, has resulted in a significant decline in forest cover in the Western Ghats (5). In the Kerala region alone, a shocking 47 percent of evergreen and semi-evergreen forest was lost between 1961 and 1988, and forest cover has continued to decline since (5).

The Nilgiri wood-pigeon is protected by law in India and it occurs in sixteen protected areas, the majority of which are in Kerala. These consist of ten wildlife sanctuaries, three national parks, two reserve forests and one tiger reserve (5).

To help ensure the successful conservation of the Nilgiri wood-pigeon, the seasonal movements of this species need to be researched and key sites need to be identified and protected (5).

Furthermore, it is essential that the sustainable exploitation of forests throughout the Western Ghats is promoted. Local communities should be encouraged to seek alternatives to deforestation and to restore disturbed natural habitats  (5).

Discover more about conservation in the Western Ghats:

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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 (November, 2010)
  2. Hildyard, A. (Ed.) (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York.
  3. Baker, E.C.S. (1913) Indian Pigeons and Doves. Witherby & Co, London.
  4. BirdLife International (2001) Threatened Birds of Asia: the BirdLife International Red Data Book. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK.
  5. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
  6. Somasundaram, S. and Vijayan, L. (2010) Foraging ecology of the globally threatened Nilgiri wood pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) in the Western Ghats, India. Chinese Birds, 1(1): 9-21.