Maroon-bellied Crowned Pigeon

Cyril Laubscher

Abstract


Living in the lowland forests of Papua New Guinea, lrian Jaya, and some of the adjacent islands are three exotic and very distinctive crowned pigeons that differ markedly from all other pigeons. Resembling large fowls and nearly the size of a turkey, the single most impressive and diagnostic feature of each species is the large erect laterally compressed fan-shaped crest. It is immediately recognisable.

The lace-like crest is also a guide to the three species. The Victoria Crowned Pigeon (Goura victoria) has the most impressive crestwith ffilrkbluefans eidgedwithwhite. Similar in appearance - but different to that of the Victoria Crowned Pigeon - are the greyish crests of the Blue Crowned Pigeon (G. cristata) from western New Guinea, and the Maroonbellied Crowned Pigeon (G. scheepmakeriJ.Adistinguishing feature between the latter two species is the lack of any maroon on the breast or belly of the Blue Crowned Pigeon.

 Unlike other pigeons, crowned pigeons have 16 tail feathers, no oil gland or gall bladder, and possess reticulated scaling on their strong thick legs that instantly denote a terrestrial type existence on the forest floor. The Victoria Crowned Pigeon is the largest at nearly 35 inches (7 4 cm) in length while the other two are only 33 inches (70 cm).

The Maroon-bellied Crowned Pigeon has the southern most distribution, and the alternative name of Southern Crowned Pigeon is used in some literature. The bird portrayed is the subspecies that is often referred to as Sclater's Crowned Pigeon (G. s sclateri1). The main visual difference from the nominate race is a shorter crest, scaly appearance to the mantle and scapulars, more extensive maroon markings on the lesser wing-coverts bordering the white primary band, and a grey belly. Both races are prone to variable melanism around the head and nape.

 ORNITHOLOGICAL NOTES

The three crowned pigeons are all listed as vulnerable in the wild (Threatened Birds of the World published in 2000 by Lynx Edicions and Birdlife International). This vulnerability is probably a direct cause of being hunted for food, sport, and illegal trade, plus extensive logging that continues in virtually all areas.

In fact, Maroon-bellied Crowned Pigeons have been exterminated around the Port Moresby area, and much of the southeast of its range. In other areas, it is still very vulnerable to hunting and trapping, especially near towns, villages and roads.

Found mainly in lowland forest below 500 metres, this species prefers forest on the flat alluvial plains. As in the other two species, it is gregarious and can be seen in small parties. Occasionally, flocks of up to 30 birds have been recorded. They forage for fruits and seeds on the ground and will only fly off with loud clapping wing beats to alight safely on a perch in a tree. They apparently sit there nervously wagging their tail, and will allow a close approach if the person remains quiet, and herein lies the danger, as they are vulnerable especially if it is a hunter approaching. The loud booming call is another distinguishing feature

AN AVICULTURAL RARITY

This magnificent pigeon is mainly seen in zoological collections, bird parks, and in stately home collections where the correct environment can be created, and the necessary expertise called upon.

Crowned pigeons tame down readily, and visitors can enjoy close up views of them, especially if they are housed in walk through aviaries or tropical rainforest environments in the larger zoos. The bird depicted was photographed at Cologne Zoo in Germany, where Theo Pagel Dhen Curator of the Rainforest Project - had overseen the creation of a superb environment for birds and visitors alike in the Tropical House. The resident pair of Sclater's Crowned Pigeons is a major attraction that appeals to visitors [young and old alike. The bird showing the raised wing Dhreat display was actually enjoying the company of the young children on a school outing, and would run around in a type of figure 8!aisplay motion, much to the delight of the young audience, and the photographer of course!

 


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