Green pigeons and the specter of the rise and fall of carrier pigeons


Green pigeons and the specter of the rise and fall of carrier pigeons

December 18, 2021, 2:30 p.m.

Last modification: December 18, 2021, 2:30 PM

Recently at the Clevedon tea plantation we were fortunate enough to observe several flocks of green pigeons landing on three fig trees at sunset to roost. We counted over 2,000 birds perched in those trees that evening. We hope that there are many such groves in the remote tea plantations of Bangladesh.

Remote places are now the last haunts of Green Pigeons in Bangladesh. Once known as common urban birds, they are absent from our towns and villages and are becoming increasingly scarce in orchards and rural gardens.

This sharp decline from great abundance over a short period of one hundred years reminds us of another pigeon that went from a great population boom to a drop just a century ago. It was the homing pigeon of North America, once considered the most numerous bird in the world, estimated at three billion individuals.

Molten golden breasts of green pigeons with yellow feet. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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Molten golden breasts of green pigeons with yellow feet.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Molten golden breasts of green pigeons with yellow feet. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

John Audubon, the great 19th century birdwatcher, watched a flock of migrating carrier pigeons pass overhead continuously for three days. From this supernatural abundance, the wild pigeon population fell to zero in 1900. The last caged carrier pigeon died at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

It was a unique event in which a bird’s population fell from three billion to zero in 50 years. From a genetic study, scientists speculate that the carrier pigeon population boom was likely what caused the bust and eventual extinction!

The legendary population boom of the Yellow-legged Pigeon in our part of the world was a far cry from that of the Homing Pigeon; and the bust we are seeing will hopefully not reach very soon. But there are many alarming parallels in the stories of the two species of pigeons.

A green pigeon about to flee its exposed perch. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

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A green pigeon about to flee its exposed perch.  Photo: Enam Ul Haque

A green pigeon about to flee its exposed perch. Photo: Enam Ul Haque

Only a generation before ours, people thought that green pigeons were so abundant that people couldn’t hurt it by eating a few birds here and there. Then, within a generation, the pigeons became scarce and several species are endangered in Bangladesh.

The 31 species of green pigeons in the world live in only a few parts of Asia and Africa. Among these green pigeons, 11 species are confined to a single island like Taiwan, Timor, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Sumba, Sao Tome, Rykyu, Madagascar, Flores, Buru and Andaman.

The six species of green pigeons in Bangladesh, fortunately, are spread over larger areas, and even if they do go extinct here, they will not be lost from Asia. Unfortunately, this is not a very heartwarming thought for a Bangladeshi bird watcher.


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