Pink Pigeon (Columba mayeri) – The World’s Rarest Pigeon
The Mauritius pink pigeon (Columba mayeri), the rarest of the world’s 255 pigeon species, has a population that has declined from 50-60 in the 1950s to less than 20 today. This shrinkage is the direct result of habitat loss, resulting in a range contraction of about 80% in just two decades.
Productivity in the wild population is low and it is suspected that only 10—20% of nests produce young, due to high predation upon the eggs. Wild breeding is seasonal, with a peak in egg-laying during the wet summer months and only a few or no birds breeding in the cool, dry winter.
Captivity Breeding Program
In captivity, however, the pigeons breed throughout the year and it is suspected that food shortages at the end of winter (September to November) prevent breeding at this time of year. If food shortages are limiting the population then artificial winter feeding should do much to increase the number of birds. The captive-breeding program at Black River, in Mauritius, has been very successful and between 1977 and the end of 1985 152 pink pigeons were bred (19 in 1984 and 20 in 1985). Many of the surplus birds have been circulated to zoos in Europe and America, and by 1984 enough birds had been bred in captivity to allow some to be released.
The first release site of pink pigeon birds chosen was the Royal Botanic Gardens at Pamplemousses, Mauritius, because there the birds could be closely watched and monitored. Twenty-two birds were released, but although eggs were laid and young hatched, the population was not self-sustaining, due primarily to poaching. The main purpose of this study was to develop techniques for releasing pink pigeons into the wild, a project about to get underway.
Reasons for the extinction of Pink Pigeon
In recent years hurricanes also reduced the tiny wild population and it is as well that there was a second captive-breeding project at Gerald Durrell’s Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust. Now, thanks to the same trust, telemetry studies are being undertaken on wild pink pigeons and wild birds released in the Macchebée Forest, Mauritius.
In the fairly recent past, this area held a small population of pink pigeons. It is hoped that this work will include supplementary feeding and other forms of direct management. Another endangered race is Columba inornata wetmorei, the Puerto Rican subspecies of the plain pigeon, whose population in June 1986 was just 50—100 in the wild and 10 in captivity.