Pink pigeon puzzle: Dozy relative of the dodo ‘confused by coos’ of invasive species

Dwindling numbers of the ‘pink pigeon’ could see the highly-endangered bird soon go the same way as its relative the dodo – yet new research from a Manchester university may have the answer to save it.

Conservation of the pink pigeon is being hampered by the coos of a similar bird – which pink pigeons mistake as a call from a rival, according to new research from Manchester Metropolitan University.

The pink pigeon is only found on the island of Mauritius, which was once home to a famous relative: the dodo.

Conservation efforts have so far saved the pink pigeon from the fate of the dodo, bringing its population up from only nine birds in 1990 to approximately 400 in 2013.

But now progress is stalling as the coos of another bird, the Madagascan turtle dove, are confusing the unfortunate fowl into thinking it’s surrounded by rivals.

Lead researcher Andrew Wolfenden, a Phd student at MMU, said: “The pink pigeon is the last remaining endemic pigeon species on Mauritius after the demise of the dodo and the blue pigeon.

“Intensive conservation schemes helped the population to grow but efforts to encourage the bird to establish new habitats failed and it is unclear why.”

However Mr Woldenden thinks his team have the answer. Scientists played recordings of the turtle dove’s coos through remote controlled speakers, and analysed the pink pigeon’s response.

The researchers think that the poor pink pigeon can’t distinguish between the coos of the dove and those of its own species, causing it to waste time and energy, and possibly stopping it from moving to new habitats.

This may help to explain why the bird has never spread beyond the Black Gorge National park, on the south coast of the country.

The phenomenon where an animal confuses the calls of another species with those of its own is known as ‘signal jamming’.

 “Signal jamming could be causing this by confusing the pink pigeons, possibly having a series of knock-on effects. Hopefully these results will contribute to safeguarding the enigmatic pink pigeon on Mauritius,” said Mr Wolfenden.

The Madagascan turtle dove is not native to Mauritius – it is thought to have been brought there by traders in the 1700s – making it an ‘invasive species’.

The paper was published in the journal Animal Behaviour, in conjunction with researchers from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. 

Main image courtesy of Arcalexx, with thanks.

Related Articles