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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

A Perusal of Pigeons. Part 2.

Last time I talked a bit about the overall family characteristics of Columbidae - better known to their friends as pigeons and doves. Today I want to complete the story by going though the major groups, illustrating where possible (though we don't always achieve what we want - it turns out I won't actually finish until next week!). As ever my photos are almost exclusively from the southern hemisphere (except where I've strayed slightly north of the equator in places like Ecuador, Borneo and central Africa). 

Most authorities recognise five or six sub-families within the overall pigeon family; as these authorities tend to be human, they don't always agree with each other and there is more to be said on this before the dust (which could well be pigeon powder down) settles. In addition the precise position is still unclear of the tragically extinct Dodo and Rodriguez Solitaire, exterminated by sailors on their remote Indian Ocean islands within decades of being discovered - in the early 17th century for the Dodo, a century later for the solitaire. They have widely been regarded as a sub-family of giant flightless pigeons, but some would put them in their own, related, family. Of living pigeons, the Pheasant Pigeon of New Guinea and the Tooth-billed Pigeon of Samoa each form their own sub-family, and the three magnificent crowned pigeons of New Guinea and islands form another.
Western Crowned Pigeon Goura cristata, courtesy Wikipedia.
The other sub-families are much larger and ubiquitous, and in fact are fairly intuitive. One comprises the fruit-eating pigeons and doves (roughly a third of the species), the other is made up of 'the rest', mostly seed-eaters. Some would go further and separate out the fruit pigeons and imperial pigeons (of Oceania and south-east Asia) from the blue and green pigeons which are also found across southern Asia and Africa.

The fruit pigeons are mostly arboreal (fair enough, as that's where fruit tends to be found!), in contrast with many of the mostly seed-eating 'typical' pigeons. My photos of them are relatively limited, due to this habit of hanging out in rainforest foliage (and my photographic limitations of course), but I have enough to illustrate the major groups.

The imperial pigeons of the genus Ducula comprise some 35 species of large often colourful fruit pigeons found from southern Asia to northern Australia and the Pacific.
Green Imperial Pigeon Ducula aenea, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
This handsome bird is found from India to Indonesia.

Pied (or Torresian) Imperial Pigeon Ducula bicolor, Darwin, Northern Territory.
This is one of a group of black and white imperial pigeons. It occurs coastally from
south-east Asia to tropical Australia (though some would divide it into four or five species).
In the western part of its Australian range it is sedentary, but from the Top End and north Queensland
it migrates to Indonesia and New Guinea after breeding, although increasing numbers now over-winter
in Darwin, perhaps as Carpentaria Palms, their favoured fruit tree, have become popular garden plants.
Formerly vastly abundant, numbers were shattered by 19th plundering of island breeding colonies;
fortunately they are now recovering.
The closely related genus of fruit pigeons (or doves) Ptilinopus is even larger than Ducula, with around 50 species centred in the area between New Guinea and the Philippines, but extending to Taiwan, Australia and Polynesia. I find them particularly hard to photograph!
Wompoo Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus magnificus, Cairns. This bird is every bit as magnificent as its name
suggests, despite this photo not doing it justice. The strange vernacular name is from its call,
a bubbling, guttural call that rolls through the rainforest, and is one of its characteristic sounds.
It is found in rainforest in New Guinea and the east coast of tropical and sub-tropical Australia.
Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove Ptilinopus regina, Kakadu NP.
A glorious little fruit-dove, found in east coast rainforests, Top End monsoon forest (as here)
and into Indonesia.
Finally in this sub-family, the green pigeons, genus Treron, comprise 30 species found across Africa and Asia. They are all green, a pigment they derive from carotenoids in their fruit diet. Unlike most other pigeons, males and females have different plumages (ie they are dimorphic). They differ in other ways too - instead of cooing, they whistle or even quack! And unlike the Ptilinopus fruit doves, their narrow gut and gizzard have evolved to grind up the seeds of the figs they eat.
A beautiful softly-plumaged male Pink-necked Green Pigeon Treron vernans, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
(Females are mostly greenish-yellow.)
A very widespread little pigeon, found throughout much of south-east Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Which brings us to all the rest... The type genus, as one would expect from the family name, is Columba, and it is no surprise that the type species is the perhaps over-familiar Feral Pigeon (or Rock Dove if you'd rather).
Feral Pigeons C. livia, Canberra.
As mentioned last time, this species was originally a cliff dweller around the Mediterranean,
and was first domesticated - for food - in the eastern Mediterranean perhaps 10, 000 year ago.
Since then of course it has spread around the world.
There are some 35 other species of Columba through Africa, Asia and Europe, with one having reached Australia.
White-headed Pigeon Columba leucomela, Nowra, New South Wales.
Associated with rainforest along the east coast of Australia, this handsome species is extending its range,
apparently in association with - both as cause and effect - invasive exotic fruit-bearing trees
such as Camphor Laurel and Privet.
Speckled (or Rock) Pigeons C. guineae, Bontebok NP, South Africa, but common across much of Africa.
(Scan of an old slide, sorry.)
Apparently similar American pigeons were formerly placed in Columba too, but DNA work has now separated them out as 17 species of Patagioenas, which actually diverged from the main pigeon line about 8 million years ago, so is much older than Columba.
The Picazuro Pigeon P. picazuro, here in Buenos Aires, is widespread in eastern South America.
Pale-vented Pigeon P, cayennensis, Puerto Maldonado, Peruvian Amazonia.
Another widespread South American species, this one throughout the northern lowlands and up to Mexico.
The Chilean Pigeon P. araucana, here near Puerto Varas, southern Chile,
is a pigeon of the temperate rainforests of the south of the continent.
Ruddy Pigeon P. subvinacea, Rio Silanche Reserve, in the cloud forests north-west of Quito, Ecuador.
This is another of the genus found across northern South America.
Spot-winged Pigeon P. maculosa, Putre, high in the Andes in northern Chile. (In a eucalpyt!)
Generally found east of the Andes in the centre-south of the continent.
Let's stay for now in South America, where there are also quite a number of smaller ground-dwelling doves. Zenaida is a small genus of just seven species, but includes some of the commonest and most familiar American doves, including the extraordinarily abundant Mourning Dove Z. macroura of North America, where close to 50 million birds are shot annually for entertainment and meat, with little apparent impact on the population.
Eared Dove Z. auriculata, Lima, Peru.
This dove is almost equally abundant throughout South America.

West Peruvian Dove Z. meloda, Lima.
Another common dove, but in a more limited range centred on the coastal plains of Peru.

Galápagos Dove Z. galapagoensis, Santa Fe.
A Galápagos endemic whose ancestor made the hazardous sea crossing - probably involuntarily - from the mainland.
Found throughout the arid lowlands of the archipelago.
There are just four species of the Metriopela ground-doves, limited to the high arid Andes, but at least a couple are common and conspicuous, including in towns.
Bare-faced Ground Dove Metriopelia ceciliae, Socorama, northern Chile,
a bird of high altitude scrubby vegetation.

Black-winged Ground Dove M. melanoptera in cactus, Colca Canyon, southern Peru.
It shares this high dry habitat with the Bare-faced Ground Dove, up to 4,400 metres above sea level.
Like it, the Black-winged also frequents Andean villages.
Another genus of small and widespread American ground doves is Columbina ('little dove', appropriately enough). Like the green pigeons they are unusual among their family in having slightly different male and female plumages, males being somewhat brighter.
Croaking Ground Dove Columbina cruziana, Cuenca, southern Ecuadorian Andes.
This is a male, from its pale grey head. The two-tone bill is distinctive, as is
the remarkably undove-like squelchy call. It is mostly a bird of the arid Pacific coast from
southern Colombia to northern Chile, but also climbs into the west slopes of the Andes, as here.
Leptotila comprises another eleven species of ground doves, some of which enter rainforests.
White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi, Aguas Verdes, northern Peru.
Back in the Old World the turtle-doves Streptopelia are widespread in Africa and Eurasia, with some species widely transported across the world. (The odd 'turtle' of the name is onomatopoeic for the call; you may remember the apparently weird line in the Song of Solomon "the voice of the turtle is heard in the land".) The most familiar of these in Australia is the introduced Spotted Dove S. chinensis (for some strange reason the habit today is to drop the 'turtle' from the name), where it has become a serious invasive pest in cities and towns. Official apathy has been a good friend of this dove here, and there is good evidence that small native doves disappear when it arrives.
Spotted Dove, Rottnest Island, Western Australia.
Another exotic member of the genus has hitherto not left Western Australia, though since its deliberate release in Perth in 1899 it has spread north almost to the tropics, into the arid goldfields and south-east to Albany and Esperance. This species, the Laughing Turtle-Dove S. senegalensis, also has a vast natural range, throughout much of Africa, the middle east and central and southern Asia.
Laughing Turtle-Dove, Shark Bay, 700km north of the original release site in Perth.
Some other turtle-doves are not so easy to find. The Adamawa Turtle-Dove S. hypopyrrha is scattered across the arid inland of west Africa, but the Nigerian and Cameroonian populations are now deep within Boko Haram territory, though there is another population further west towards Senegal.
Adamawa Turtle-Dove, Bénoué National Perk, Cameroon.
Turtur (reprising the 'turtle' theme) is a small genus of similarly long-tailed African doves, some of which are very common and widespread.
Blue-spotted Wood Dove (the name refers to two small blue spots on each wing) T. afer, Entebbe, Uganda.
And with that I am going, unexpectedly, to leave it until next week. It has already become more of an epic than I anticipated, so I'll leave the not inconsiderable topic of Australian pigeons and doves - many of which are very different from those of other continents - until next week.

I hope you'll think it's worth coming back then.

BACK ON THURSDAY

2 comments:

Susan said...

It being early spring here I am watching a pair of Wood Pigeons in the neighbour's garden. He is very determinedly following her. Wood Pigeons are resident, but the Turtle Doves haven't arrived yet from Africa. Last year 'my' turtle doves never arrived although I saw plenty around. I missed their purring in my orchard.

Ian Fraser said...

The old English words for pigeon that I mentioned last time - queece, culver and cushat - often referred specifically to Wood Pigeons, as the most familiar pigeon. It must be nice to be able to enjoy turtle doves as 'belonging'.