First, I should explain the odd title. I grew up near the Bronx Zoo and dreamed of a career there since early childhood. Early on, however, responsibilities made it impossible for me to consider zoo work, a notoriously low-paying field. By the early 1980’s, however, things changed and I was volunteering at the Bronx Zoo and doing everything else I could think of to break into the field. But I was a lawyer at the time, and, despite years of experience with well-known animal importers and bird breeders, the zoo’s management did not believe I seriously intended to abandon such a lucrative profession. Then the Pink Pigeons came to the rescue…
After a year of failed attempts, I managed to land an interview for a position as bird keeper. As the curator and I walked and talked, I caught sight of a group of unusual birds, and stepped closer. I thought they might be Pink Pigeons, Nesoenas mayeri. I was shocked, as there were but 12 individuals left in the wild at the time, and captive breeding efforts had only just begun.
The curator was surprised that I knew anything at all about the relatively unstudied birds. As luck would have it, I was smack in the middle of Gerard Durrell’s wonderful Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons, and so their plight was fresh in my mind. It also turned out that these rarities were the curator’s “pet project”. There were many highly-qualified candidates for the job, but in that moment, she made her decision and my life took on a new and fortunate course.
Breeding Pink Pigeons at the Bronx Zoo
One of my first rotations in the Department of Ornithology involved the breeding of Pink Pigeons and Birds of Paradise. We relied upon a technique known as “double-clutching” to bolster our Pink Pigeon population. The first eggs produced by each female were removed, whereupon she would lay another clutch. The first clutch was then placed under the care of a female Ring-Necked Dove.
Pigeons feed their young with “pigeon milk”, a unique food generated from the lining of the crop. Dove “milk” was suitable for Pink Pigeon chicks, but how they manufactured enough of it I’ll never know. Within weeks, the Pink Pigeon chicks were twice the size of their “foster-moms”. The doves would perch on the pigeons’ backs when brooding…looking like bizarre little “bird hats”!
My work with the pigeons was fascinating, and I threw myself into it with a passion. Due largely to the efforts of legendary conservationist Gerard Durrell, Pink Pigeons are doing better these days…I like to imagine that I have aided their recovery in some small way, and perhaps “paid them back” for helping me land my dream job.
The Pink Pigeon is found only on the island of Mauritius, which lies east of Madagascar, off the coast of southeastern Africa. By 1980, deforestation, cyclones, and introduced monkeys, mongooses, cats and rats had reduced the wild population to 12 individuals. “Pigeon Wood”, a 15 acre stand of Japanese Red Cedar Trees, comprised their entire range.
Mauritius’ best known bird is the now-extinct Dodo, but other species, many endemic, have suffered as well. Kestrel, Fody (please see photo) and Fruit Bat populations plummeted, and both native tortoises were extinct by the mid 1800’s. The island is also home to the world’s rarest Psittacine, the Echo Parakeet (please see article below).
As was his way, Gerard Durrell took up the task of saving the Pink Pigeon from certain extinction. Today, over 350 individuals live on Mauritius, and the species is well-established in captivity. The Pink Pigeon story stands as a fine and all-too-rare example of what can be accomplished, even in the direst of scenarios.
Keeping Exotic Pigeons
The Rock Dove, or “city pigeon”, has given many of its relatives a bad rap, but bird enthusiasts know that the family Columbidae contains some of the world’s most gorgeous species. From fantastically-colored fruit doves to the massive blue Victoria Crowned Pigeon, a surprising number are well-established in captivity. Please see this article for further information.
Pink Pigeon image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Dick Daniels
Mauritius Fody image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by ngari.norway
Pink Pigeon Headshot image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ltshears