Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Polynesian Ground-Dove: Alive but Critically Endangered

The Polynesian Ground-Dove (Gallicolumba erythroptera), thanks to the spread of the Black and Polynesian rats, domestic cats and loss of habitat, like a number of the compatatively few species of birds that reached what is now French Polynesia, is critically endangered. The total world population is estimated by Birdlife International at 100-200 individuals, equating to 70-130 mature individuals. Importantly, many of the populations on the atolls on which they survive are very small.

Rangiroa is the largest atoll in French Polynesia, 80 km long and 32 km at its widest. One motu (island) of the four hundred and odd was cleared of rats in 2005. The Société d'Ornithologie de Polynésie (MANU) have been ringing (banding) and monitoring the ground-doves there in recent years, as part of their efforts to conserve this species and its habitat.

On 4 November 2009, MV Clipper Odyssey entered the lagoon and moored near the passage through the reef and the inhabited motus. We there there on a Noble Caledonia Expedition Cruise around French Polynesia. Brent Stephenson, was ornithologist on board and had arranged for five of us to be picked up from the ship by Hugo in his fast (and rat-free) boat after breakfast. After about 50 minutes with the outboards at full throttle we reached the rat-free motu (actually two) and waded ashore. The air and trees were full of nesting sea-birds.

A short search in the undergrowth soon revealed a ringed male ground-dove — a bird seen by Brent on an earlier visit — unconcernedly searching the litter for food. Here is part of the video I took that morning:

We emerged from the undergrowth and waded to the adjoining motu as Bristle-thighed Curlews (Numenius tahitiensis) appeared on the coral and sand at the edge of the lagoon. These are the birds that  fly for over 6000 km non-stop to reach their breeding ground in Alaska and then do the reverse trip to spend the northern winter on Pacific islands from Micronesia to French Polynesia.

We saw three ground-doves — all males and the speculation was that the females were incubating.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the islands to get back to the ship. As we walked back to the boat, one of our party said, We are just so privileged to have seen this spectacle of what the whole of French Polynesia must once have been like. There was complete agreement.

Bottle-nosed dolphins joined the boat as we crossed the lagoon and, yes, we were late for lunch.

A different male Polynesian Ground-dove

A view from the lagoon side of the motu. Waves can be seen breaking
between motus on the reef

In 2011 nine ground-doves were found at this site by MANU.

MANU are making great efforts in conservation in French Polynesia. They deserve great praise and support. Their website is at:

Information on the Polynesian Ground-dove can be fund at: