The spotted green pigeon, a mysterious species collected in the 1700s, turns out to have been a flying relative of the dodo that likely lived in the trees of the South Pacific.
Only two specimens of the pigeon were ever described, in 1783, and since then one has gone missing. The location they were collected from was not recorded, but they are associated with South Pacific voyages. The only remaining specimen is held at the World Museum (formerly Liverpool Museum), National Museums Liverpool.
Quest for identity
In its original description, the spotted green pigeon was said to closely resemble the Nicobar pigeon, a bird native to Indonesia that prefers to live on small remote islands. This, and it's obscurity, led some to speculate that the spotted green pigeon was just an unusual variety of the Nicobar pigeon.
Determined to find out once and for all, the World Museum asked our bird expert Hein van Grouw and colleagues in Australia to investigate their specimen. Using detailed morphological analysis and genetic testing, the team identified the spotted green pigeon as a distinctive species in its own right.
The only remaining specimen of the spotted green pigeon.
Photo by Hein van Grouw.
Preliminary results from the genetic testing reveal the pigeon is in the same family as the dodo and its extinct flightless relative the Rodrigues Solitaire. It's somewhat of a mystery how the specialised flightless dodo got to its isolated island habitat, but finding more relatives can help clarify the picture. The addition of the spotted green pigeon to the lineage may add some evidence to the 'stepping stone hypothesis', which suggests ancestors of the family island-hopped from India or Southeast Asia.
van Grouw is completing his morphological analysis that will help determine what kind of lifestyle the spotted green pigeon had. It was originally described as having short wings, suggesting a ground-dwelling lifestyle like the dodo, but this turns out not to be the case, and it is more likely that it lived in the trees eating fruit and berries.
Determining the spotted green pigeon as a separate species has another consequence. Since no others have ever been seen, it can confidently be added to the extinct species list.
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