Mauritius Blue-Pigeon

Scientific Name
Alectroenas nitidissima
Family
Genus
Extinct Year
c.1830s
Conservation Status
Extinct (EX)

Recent Nearby Sightings

Range Map

Mauritius Blue-Pigeon Images

Wikipedia Article

The Mauritius Blue Pigeon or Pigeon Hollandais (Alectroenas nitidissima) is an extinct species of pigeon formerly endemic to the Mascareneisland of Mauritius, located east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
Its alternative vernacular name derives from its coloration: the bird, tri-colored white, dark blue and red, reminded Pierre Sonnerat, who brought it to the attention of the scientific world, of the Dutch flag. Alectroenas, Latinized from Ancient Greek alektros ("unmarried") and oenas ("wild pigeon"), because birds of this genus look distinctly different from other pigeons. nitidissima, Latin for "the most handsome", "the neatest" (nitida and "neat" are false cognates). The French flag at that time was still the Oriflamme. When Gmelin re-described the bird with the binomen franciae ("the French one"), he referred to the now-familiar Tricolore which had then just been flown for the first time. Bonnaterre used the binomen batavica ("the Dutch one") in his re description one year later. The Blue Pigeons are related to Indo-Pacific fruit pigeons.
Pierre Sonnerat described the bird as follows: Unlike all surviving specimens and other depictions, an illustration of a bird kept in Europe around 1790 has a red forehead, like both sexes of the Seychelles Blue Pigeon. Julian Hume has suggested that the image depicts a male, which was described as "infinitely more handsome" than the female by Cossigny.
Well known to the island's inhabitants, it was nonetheless not the subject of dedicated scientific research. Most details of its life are somewhat apocryphal, such as a rather terrestrial habit (unlike its congeners, which are very arboreal) and the claim that it often fed on river mussels; while this cannot be discounted, fruits likely made up the mainstay of its diet (although fruit availability on Mauritius is heavily variable according to season). The crop and stomach contents of one bird contained 4 "nuts" (capsules or seeds) of Calophyllum tacamahaca or Labourdonnaisia calophylloides. From a single captive specimen that survived for a few months in the menagerie of William V, Prince of Orange in 1790, the voice is recorded: a dove-like cooing during the day, and rows of 10-12 baf calls in the night. Only three specimens are known: the type in the Musum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris, one apparently taken some time before 1819 in the Royal Museum, Edinburgh and one, the last recorded, in the Mauritius Natural History Museum, Port Louis. There are some paintings of specimens, two fine sketches of a freshly killed bird made by a Dutch sailor in 1603, and two pictures of a captive bird, probably the 1790 individual. Perhaps surprisingly given the rich fossil record of other extinct Mauritian taxa, the first bones of this species were only recovered in 2006 by the expedition of the Mauritian-European Dodo Research Programme. On the other hand, this may indicate that the Mauritius Blue Pigeon only inhabited dense forest, as paleontological research on Mauritius has been largely limited to coastal areas and caves. The bones, discovered in the deposit of the Mare aux Songes, seem to be of a bird that was killed and brought there by a flash flood or similar disaster. Many other of the endemic species of Mauritius went extinct after the arrival of man, so the ecosystem of the island is heavily damaged, and hard to reconstruct. Before humans arrived, Mauritius was entirely covered in forests, but very little remains today due to deforestation. The surviving endemic fauna is still seriously threatened. The Mauritius Blue Pigeon lived alongside other recently extinct Mauritian birds such as the Dodo, the Red Rail, Thirioux's Grey Parrot, the Broad-billed Parrot, the Mauritius Owl, the Mascarene Coot, the Mauritian Shelduck, the Mauritian Duck, and the Mauritius Night Heron. Extinct Mauritian reptiles include the Saddle-backed Mauritius giant tortoise, the Domed Mauritius giant tortoise, the Mauritian Giant Skink, and the Round Island Burrowing Boa. The Small Mauritian Flying Fox and the snail Tropidophora carinata lived on Mauritius and Runion, but went extinct in both islands.
No unequivocal written records exist of the Mauritius Blue Pigeon until 1755, apart from one brief mention by Franois Cauche in 1651 of similar Alectroenas encountered on Mauritius and Madagascar in 1640. In 1755, Cossigny gave a somewhat more detailed description of the bird, noting that it was becoming rare since the 1730s. He attributed the decline to deforestation and hunting by escaped slaves; as opposed to the Pink Pigeon, which survives until today, the Mauritius Blue Pigeon was not seasonally poisonous or unpalatable. In 1801, though, Jacques Grard Milbert was still able to procure several for food, but he could only find it in the woods of the river gorges. The last specimen, taken in 1826 in the forests of Savanne district, and the 1832 report by Julien Desjardins suggest that in 1830, birds could still be found in the remaining patches of forest around the Mare aux Vacoas. As a claim that one additional bird was shot around 1850 is erroneous, it can be concluded that the Mauritius Blue Pigeon became extinct in the 1830s. Apart from habitat destruction and hunting, introduced predators, mainly Crab-eating Macaques, were probably also responsible.