Polynesian ground-dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera)

GenusGallicolumba (1)
SizeSize: 25 cm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Known from just a few small islands and rarely seen, this short-tailed, ground-dwelling dove is thought to have declined to fewer than 250 individuals. The male is mostly black, with a reddish-purple sheen to the upper back, and a contrastingly white throat, chest, face and ‘eyebrow’ (2). Certain males have entirely white heads and necks and have been designated by some as a distinct subspecies, G. e. pectoralis (3). By contrast, the female is generally bright reddish-brown, strongly tinged with reddish-purple on the crown, neck and wing-coverts (2). The breast is slightly paler than the rest of the plumage, the whole of which can fade and bleach with wear (3).

The Polynesian ground-dove formerly occurred in the Society Islands and throughout the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, and fossil records even exist from the Southern Cook Islands, but populations now only survive in small pockets in the Tuamotu Archipelago (2). Recent records exist only from Matureivavao (1968 and possibly 1987, but not found in 1999) and two islets in Rangiroa Atoll (1990 to 1991, perhaps a separate subspecies or colour morph of G. e. pectoralis, but no birds have been seen since). A small population was also recently seen on Tenararo (1999), and a 2003 expedition to further remote islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago discovered a new population, doubling the known global population to around 100 to 110 birds (2) (3).

Prefers primary forest on atolls with herbs, shrubs and ferns or dense shrubs (2).

The limited information available on the Polynesian ground-dove indicates that it feeds on a variety of seeds, buds, fruit and leaves, as well as on caterpillars and other insects (2) (3). Virtually nothing is known of this bird’s breeding behaviour, other than that young have been observed in January and April (3).

Although the Polynesian ground-dove was once hunted by local people for food, it is more likely that the main reason for its decline and local extinction on several islands is the introduction of cats and rats, particularly the black rat Rattus rattus (2) (4). Cyclones, storms and habitat loss are also likely to have had a significant impact, with the largest atolls with the richest vegetation having been cleared for coconut plantations (2) (4).

Several surveys have been conducted on islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago (2), including an expedition by MANU (BirdLife in French Polynesia), sponsered by the BP Conservation Programme (5). A follow-up expedition by the BP Conservation Programme was planned for 2000 to 2001 to initiate protection measures and management plans to conserve the Polynesian ground-dove (2) (5). These plans included conducting important research into the ecology of the bird, protecting its habitat from human disturbance, raising local awareness of the species, and initiating a captive breeding programme on Tahiti to safeguard the species from extinction. Introduced predators would also be eradicated from a suitable nearby island with the aim of translocating ground-doves there (5).

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 (September, 2006)
  2. BirdLife International (October, 2006)
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World – Sandgrouse To Cuckoos. Vol. 4. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. Natural History Museum (October, 2006)
  5. The Ornithological Society of Polynesia – “MANU” (October, 2006)