Lee Richardson Zoo

Nicobar Pigeon

Order:  Columbiformes - pigeons and doves

Family:  Columbidae - pigeons and doves

Scientific Name:  Caloenas nicobarica


Description: The Nicobar pigeon is a large pigeon with a “mane” of long, hair-like feathers around the neck.  The plumage is dark overall, with a contrasting white tail.  The long neck feathers, called hackles, are black with purple iridescence.  The upperparts are dark green, and the underparts are iridescent green and blue.  The beak is black with an enlarged cere (fleshy swelling around the base of the beak).  Males and juveniles have brown eyes, while females have white eyes.  Females also have shorter hackles and are browner overall.  Juveniles do not have hackles, and they are entirely brownish black, including the tail.  They gain their adult plumage after their first molt.  In flight, this species can be easily distinguished from other pigeons by its long neck, long broad wings and very short tail.  It is 15-17 inches long.

Home Range:   Pacific islands from the Nicobar Islands to New Guinea and the Solomons.


Habitat Type:   Mangroves and lowland forests of small islands.  This species can use selectively logged forest.


Reproduction:   The breeding season for Nicobar pigeons varies throughout their range, but is usually very long.  On some islands, pairs begin nesting in June, and some birds continue nesting until January.  Males display by puffing out their iridescent feathers and bowing to the female.  They nest in colonies on small offshore islands, sometimes gathering in huge flocks containing thousands of pairs.  The nest is an untidy platform of twigs placed at least 10 feet above the ground.  Females lay one white egg per clutch, and both parents incubate.  The hatchling has black skin and little or no down.  It is fed crop-milk by both parents, and fledges after approximately 1 month.


Diet in the Wild:   Fallen fruits and seeds.  Their large, muscular gizzard can grind large nuts that humans would need a hammer to crack.  They keep quartz crystals in the gizzard to make it even more efficient.


Diet in the Zoo:   Scratch mix, Zupreem diet, and fresh fruit


General Information:   The Nicobar pigeon is the only surviving species in its genus, but a larger extinct form is known from fossils.  They live and feed on the ground on small islands that are free of predators.  They usually feed alone or in pairs, using their strong beaks to push aside leaf litter or dig in the soil.  When not feeding, they are often found in flocks up to 85 birds.  They seem to be crepuscular, resting on low perches for most of the day and then becoming active at dusk.  In especially dark, shady places, they may be active during the day. 

Nicobar pigeons are very nomadic.  They travel between many small off-shore islands to feed, sometimes reaching larger islands or the mainland.  Their flight is swift and powerful, and they can fly long distances without resting.  They are usually silent, but can produce a low-pitched croak.  They are popular display birds and breed well in captivity, needing only open baskets or boxes for nesting.


Conservation Status:   Nicobar pigeons are considered to be near-threatened, and are listed in CITES Appendix 1.  They are locally common in places where trees are fruiting, but are thought to be declining overall.  As small islands are developed, the pigeons’ habitat is lost and predators are introduced.  Because they usually nest in large colonies, they are also vulnerable to hunting and capture by local people.  On at least one island, they are collected as nestlings to be hand-fed in captivity, and then sold in local markets.


Predators:   Mainly humans



Encyclopedia of Aviculture, Vol. 1.  1970.  A. Rutgers and K.A. Norris.  Blandford Press, Poole.  p. 333.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali.  1993.  J. MacKinnon and K. Phillipps.  Oxford University Press, Oxford.  pp. 170-171.

A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia.  1975.  B. King, M. Woodcock, and E.C. Dickinson.  Collins, London.  pp. 175-178.

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 4.  1997.  J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, and J. Sargatal.  Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.  pp. 60-111, 179.