Nicobar pigeon or Nicobar dove

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Nicobar Pigeon (Nicobar Dove)

The Nicobar pigeon, scientifically known as Caloenas nicobarica, is an exquisite bird inhabiting small islands and coastal regions stretching from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India, across the Indonesian Archipelago, to the Solomons and Palau. Remarkably, it stands as the sole surviving member of the Caloenas genus, with its extinct relatives including the spotted green pigeon and Kanaka pigeon. Furthermore, it holds a significant evolutionary connection as the closest living relative to the extinct dodo and Rodrigues solitaire.

Renowned for its stunning appearance, the Nicobar Pigeon graces its habitat with a dark slaty grey body adorned with lustrous metallic blue-green and copper-bronze upperparts. Its distinguishing features include mane-like neck hackles that shimmer and sharply contrasting white tail coverts and tail. Notably, females exhibit smaller sizes with shorter neck hackles and brown underparts, while the young are born with dull grey plumage, lacking the characteristic neck hackles, and a bronzy green tail.

Despite its majestic presence, the Nicobar Pigeon faces numerous challenges, contributing to its declining population status. Once abundant across its range, the species now grapples with threats such as capture for the pet trade and consumption as food. Moreover, habitat loss, exacerbated by deforestation for plantations, poses a significant risk to its survival. The invasion of alien predators like rats and cats further compounds the species’ struggle for survival.

In its natural habitat, the Nicobar Pigeon exhibits both solitary behavior and congregates in flocks, typically ranging from 20 to 30 individuals. While it boasts swift and powerful flight capabilities, it predominantly forages on the forest floor, feasting on fleshy fruits and seeds. During the breeding season from January to March, females construct nests using twigs, perched high on evergreen trees to safeguard their eggs.

Regrettably, the Nicobar Pigeon’s conservation status paints a concerning picture, categorized as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List and listed in Appendix 1 of CITES. Urgent conservation efforts are imperative to safeguard this avian jewel from further decline. Efforts to combat illegal capture, address habitat destruction, and mitigate the impact of invasive species are crucial steps in securing the future of the Nicobar Pigeon and preserving its ecological significance for generations to come.

Scientific Classification

Domain  Eukaryota
Kingdom  Animalia
Phylum Chordata
Class Aves
Order Columbiformes
Family Columbidae
Genus  Caloenas
Species  C. nicobarica


In 1738, the Nicobar pigeon made its debut in the scientific realm when English naturalist Eleazar Albin included a detailed description and two illustrations of the species in his seminal work, A Natural History of Birds. Fast forward to 1758, and the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae, categorized the Nicobar pigeon within the genus Columba, alongside other pigeon species. Linnaeus christened the bird with the binomial name Columba nicobarica, citing Albin’s invaluable contributions. However, it wasn’t until 1840 that English zoologist George Robert Gray bestowed upon the Nicobar pigeon the honor of being the type species for the newly erected genus Caloenas.

Binomial name

Caloenas nicobarica (Linnaeus, 1758)


Columba nicobarica Linnaeus, 1758

Taxonomically, the Nicobar pigeon boasts two recognized subspecies: C. n. nicobarica, spanning from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and C. n. pelewensis, exclusively inhabiting Palau Island. Intriguingly, cladistic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences have proposed the Nicobar pigeon as a probable closest living relative of the extinct didines, including the renowned dodo. Nevertheless, such conclusions remain tentative, underscored by the need for comprehensive genetic studies encompassing a broader taxonomic spectrum within the Columbidae family.

Evolutionary analyses place the Nicobar pigeon amidst a diverse Indopacific radiation, alongside distinctive columbiform species like the tooth-billed pigeon and the crowned pigeons. While uncertainties persist regarding its precise phylogenetic placement, the Nicobar pigeon’s singular attributes and ancient lineage underscore its significance as a living relic from the Paleogene era, dating back some 56-34 million years ago.

Tragically, the Nicobar pigeon shares a fate with its extinct relatives, such as the Kanaka pigeon and the Spotted green pigeon. The former, larger than its surviving counterpart, likely fell prey to human exploitation and vanished from its native habitats by 500 BC. Similarly, the Spotted green pigeon, a more recent casualty of the 19th century, succumbed to the invasive presence of European rats. These extinctions serve as poignant reminders of the delicate balance between human activities and the preservation of biodiversity within fragile island ecosystems.


The Nicobar pigeon presents itself as a majestic avian specimen, boasting a sizable frame measuring 40 cm (16 in) in length. Its distinguished features include a head adorned in elegant grey plumage, seamlessly transitioning into resplendent green and copper hackles along the upper neck. Notably, its tail, albeit short, exudes purity in its pristine white hue, providing a striking contrast to the metallic green sheen that envelops the remainder of its plumage. A distinguishing characteristic lies in the dark bill’s cere, forming a subtle blackish knob, while its sturdy legs and feet sport a subdued red hue. Piercing irises gaze from its visage, adding depth to its captivating presence.

Intriguingly, sexual dimorphism subtly manifests in this avian species, with females exhibiting slight diminishment in size compared to their male counterparts. Their features include a smaller bill knob, abbreviated hackles, and a warmer tone in the underparts. Juvenile Nicobar pigeons, characterized by a black tail and a lack of iridescence, undergo a gradual transformation as they mature into their resplendent adult plumage. Remarkably, minimal variations punctuate the species across its expansive range, with even the Palau subspecies, C. n. pelewensis, showcasing near-identical traits save for shorter neck hackles.

The vocal prowess of the Nicobar pigeon adds another layer of intrigue to its allure, as it emits a distinctive low-pitched repetitive call, echoing through its habitat with an air of authority and grace. This auditory signature serves not only as a means of communication but also as a testament to the species’ rich behavioral repertoire and social dynamics within its community.

Aspect Description
Size Large, measuring approximately 40 cm (16 in) in length
Plumage Head and upper neck plumage are grey, transitioning into green and copper hackles; metallic green plumage with a short, pure white tail
Sexual Dimorphism Females are slightly smaller with a smaller bill knob, shorter hackles, and browner underparts
Variation Minimal variation across the species’ wide range, including the Palau subspecies, which is nearly identical with shorter neck hackles
Vocalization Very vocal species, emitting a low-pitched repetitive call


Distribution and Habitat

The Nicobar pigeon’s presence is intricately woven into the fabric of the Nicobar Islands, from which it derives both its common and scientific names. Historically, one of the most significant colonies of Nicobar pigeons flourished on Batti Malv, a remote wildlife sanctuary nestled between Car Nicobar and Teressa. However, the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami wrought havoc across the Nicobar Islands, casting uncertainty on the fate of Batti Malv and its avian inhabitants. While the extent of damage remains ambiguous, resilient signs emerged, exemplified by the relatively unscathed Batti Malv lighthouse. Standing tall amidst the devastation, this skeletal tower, meticulously restored by the survey ship INS Sandhayak within a month post-disaster, stands as a beacon of hope amidst the chaos. Subsequent surveys, notably in April 2007 by the Indian Coast Guard vessel ICGS Vikram, reveal nature’s remarkable regenerative prowess, with the lighthouse engulfed in a verdant shroud of vines. Yet, this verdant cover hints at potential forest degradation, as creeping plants often dominate early succession stages, a stark contrast to the mature forest captured in pre-tsunami photographs.

Beyond its native confines, the Nicobar pigeon’s wanderlust occasionally leads it astray, with notable sightings recorded beyond its traditional range. In a remarkable discovery, Indigenous rangers on the Dampier Peninsula in the western Kimberley, Australia, stumbled upon a solitary Nicobar pigeon in May 2017. Swift action ensued as part of stringent biosecurity measures, with the bird promptly reported to quarantine services and safely removed by Australian Department of Agriculture officials. More recently, in 2023, another solitary individual graced the shores of Green Island, off the coast of Cairns. Promptly reported by the vigilant environmental manager of Green Island Resort, authorities were notified, albeit with no immediate plans for relocation. These sporadic encounters underscore the Nicobar pigeon’s enigmatic allure, transcending geographical boundaries and enriching diverse ecosystems with its presence.

Behaviour and Ecology

The Nicobar pigeon’s habitat spans a vast expanse, encompassing the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India, the Mergui Archipelago of Myanmar, and various offshore islands extending from south-western Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia, southern Cambodia, and Vietnam. Additionally, it inhabits numerous small islands scattered between Sumatra, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands. Notably, the distinct subspecies C. n. pelewensis finds its sole refuge on Palau, adding to the species’ rich geographical tapestry.

In its daily pursuits, the Nicobar pigeon exhibits a nomadic lifestyle, traversing from one island to another in cohesive flocks. These avian nomads often seek refuge on offshore islets for nocturnal repose, where the absence of predators ensures uninterrupted slumber. During daylight hours, they scour areas abundant in food resources, displaying a notable adaptability to habitats frequented by humans. Their diet primarily consists of seeds, fruits, and buds, with a keen attraction to grain-rich environments. Equipped with a gizzard stone to aid in food digestion, the Nicobar pigeon’s flight is characterized by swift, rhythmic beats interspersed with occasional wing flicks, a hallmark trait of pigeon species. Unlike their counterparts, they exhibit a unique flying formation, often traversing in single-file columns rather than loose flocks. The prominent white tail serves as a beacon during flight, facilitating flock cohesion, especially during dawn or dusk crossings over the sea. Notably, the absence of a white tail in juvenile birds serves as a clear indicator of immaturity, discernible even at a glance by adult conspecifics.

Breeding activities of the Nicobar pigeon unfold amidst dense forest canopies on offshore islets, where large colonies congregate to raise their young. Nest construction involves the assembly of a loose stick structure atop trees, serving as a sanctuary for the single elliptical, faintly blue-tinged white egg laid by the female.

Beyond its native range, sporadic sightings of Caloenas nicobarica have been documented, with notable occurrences in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. A juvenile specimen captured near Broome marks the species’ maiden appearance on the Australian mainland, offering a glimpse into the Nicobar pigeon’s remarkable capacity for exploration and adaptation across diverse ecosystems.


Nicobar pigeons face significant threats from human exploitation, primarily as they are hunted extensively for both food consumption and the procurement of their gizzard stones, which are utilized in jewelry making. Despite being listed on CITES Appendix I, which prohibits commercial international trade, the species remains targeted for the local pet market. However, the demand for Nicobar pigeons in international zoos is largely met through captive breeding programs. While direct exploitation, including illegal trade, may seem sustainable in isolation, the overarching challenge lies in the dwindling availability of suitable nesting habitats. Offshore islets, vital for the species’ breeding success, face relentless pressures from deforestation for plantations, rampant construction activities, and pollution from industrial and harbor activities. Additionally, the influx of human travel introduces new predators to these breeding sites, further exacerbating the plight of Nicobar pigeon colonies. Despite its wide distribution and relative abundance in certain locales, such as Palau, where approximately 1,000 adult birds persist, the long-term survival of C. nicobarica is increasingly precarious. Consequently, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Nicobar pigeon as a near-threatened species, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive conservation measures to safeguard its future.

Did You Know?

Nicobar pigeons boast a fascinating genetic connection as the closest living relatives to the extinct dodo. Evolving in isolation, these birds have finely honed their adaptations to thrive on small islands, particularly favoring uninhabited locales adorned with subtropical or tropical forests. While their preferred habitat comprises remote islands, Nicobar pigeons display remarkable versatility, readily venturing to the mainland or larger nearby islands in search of sustenance. Notably, maternal care takes center stage in their reproductive cycle, as mothers nourish their chicks with crop milk, a specialized substance originating from a unique part of their digestive tract—an adaptation shared by many avian species. This distinctive trait underscores the intricate evolutionary adaptations that have enabled Nicobar pigeons to thrive amidst the challenges of island living.

Species Range

The geographic range of the long-nosed snake encompasses a vast expanse, stretching from the northern regions of California and southern Idaho to the southern territories of Utah, southeastern Colorado, and southwestern Kansas. Its distribution extends further southward, reaching central Baja California, Jalisco, San Luis Potosi, and Tamaulipas in Mexico. Remarkably adaptable, these snakes inhabit diverse elevations, ranging from below sea level in desert basins to heights reaching approximately 1,900 meters (6,233 feet). This extensive range underscores the species’ ability to thrive across varied landscapes, from arid desert plains to mountainous terrains, making it a resilient and widely distributed member of its ecosystem.


Nicobar pigeons, with their striking genetic connection to the extinct dodo, demonstrate remarkable adaptability to island life. They favor uninhabited islands adorned with subtropical or tropical forests but readily forage on the mainland or larger nearby islands. Maternal care is pivotal, as mothers nourish their chicks with crop milk, a unique substance originating from a specialized part of their digestive tract. These adaptations underscore the birds’ evolutionary prowess in navigating the challenges of island ecosystems and highlight their significance in avian biology and conservation.


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