Tag Archives: Kiribati

Ground Doves in the Gilbert Islands?

The Polynesian Ground-Dove (Pampusana erythroptera (Gmelin)) and the Friendly Ground-Dove (Pampusana stairi (Gray)) are mentioned in several enumerations of birds that are thought to inhabit the Gilbert Islands in the Micronesian part of Kiribati.

So, I did a little search to find out something more ….:

The first thing I found was that D. H. R. Spennemann and H. Benjamin name these two species as inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, which apparently is an error since they use A. B. Amerson’s account as their source, in which they are clearly named as inhabiting the Gilbert – but not the Marshall Islands. [2][4].

This is the abovementioned account by A. B. Amerson Jr..:

Gallicolumba erythroptera* Ground Dove

Status — Introduced breeder in the Gilbert Islands.

Marshall-Gilbert Distribution Records — Breeding: Gilberts – Abemama, Nonouti.

Pacific Distribution — Native to the Society and Tuamotu Islands (Baker, 1951).

*Remarks — I am using the species designation given by Child (1960), who says this species was reported to have been introduced into the Gilberts from Nauru about 1940. Pearson (1962) did not find any doves at Nauru in 1961.
” [2]

The Gilbertese name of this bird is given here as bitin, more about that later.

Gallicolumba stairi* Friendly Ground Dove

Status — Introduced, possible breeder in the Gilbert Islands.

Marshall-Gilbert Distribution Records — Gilberts – Abemama.

Pacific Distribution — Present only at Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa Islands (Peters, 1934)

*Remarks — I am using the species designation given by Child (1960) who says this species was probably introduced from Fiji.
” [2]

Here the author states “Child (1960)” as his source, so let’s see where that leads me to.

I could trace all accounts back to the following one, which appears to be the first that mentiones these two dove species, it is from a Peter Child who worked for about one year as an radio operator in the Coastwatching Organisation during WWII and who visited nearly all the islands in the ‘colony’ within a time of three years from 1953 to 1956.

He was an amateur bird-watcher, as he called himself, but his accounts are in fact reliable, in my opinion.

Here they are.:

24. Gallicolumba erythroptera: Ground Dove.

Lupe palangi. Bitin (Taobe)

While Ducula is a native in the Ellice, being referred to in many old songs and legends, the ground doves are undoubtedly recent introductions of the present century, probably mainly from Fiji. At Abemama they are reported to have been introduced from Nauru about 20 years ago [ca. 1936 because this account was originally puplished in 1956], and have multiplied considerably so that there is now a fair number in a wild state. A few pairs have also been taken from Abemama to some other Gilbert Islands as pets, but in most of the Colony they are unknown. A pair taken to Nanouti had four offspring, and in June two females had nests about ten feet of the ground in an old deserted house; the nests were of grass and stra and built inside old boxes; each contained two eggs, oval in shape and creamy-white in colour. At Abemama they are said to nest in coconut crowns, often high above the ground. They feed mainly on the ground; when disturbed they fly up into the palms and their call, a soft “coo”, may then be heard.

The colouring is typically darkish greys and white; the head, neck, back and upper breats are grey with a purplish and greenish sheen or irridescence; the secondary wing feathers are mainly dark grey and the primaries and tail feathers mainly white; the abdomen is white, often speckled with grey, and he under tail-coverts white. The short bill is dark grey with a small whitish operculum at the base; the legs and feet are coral red, or purplish red. Some birds have less white than others, and hardly any two are exactly alike.
” [1]

The name Bitin apparently is the local variation of the English word pigeon, while the name Taobeundoubtedly is the local variation of the German word Taube which means nothing but dove/pigeon; both these names suggest that the birds were imported from somewhere else.

The name Lupe palangi is the Tuvaluan name given to this bird, it can be translated as foreign pigeon (!).

It also appears to me that he did see this species with his own eyes.

He goes on with the second dove species.:

25. Gallicolumba stairii. Friendly Ground Dove.

There are few individuals in a semi-wild state at Abemama, probably of this species, and probably introduced from Fiji where it is common. The habits are similar to those of G. erythroptera, and there is no distinction in vernacular names of the two species.

The colouring is mainly brown with a little white on the wings and lower breast; the upperparts have a greenish sheen in some lights. The bill is dark and the feet deep red or purplish red.


Abemama atoll

STS-61A mission crew

(public domain)

All in all it appears to me that both, the Polynesian- as well as the Friendly Ground Doves, indeed had been introduced sometimes during the middle 1930s, during WWII to at least the Abemama atoll, it appears not to be known by whom, and it also appears not to be known if they still exist there.  

Interesting is the statement that at least one of them had been brought from Nauru, where no groud dove species is known to have existed – and if one has existed it might rather have been a distinct, endemic one, but not the Polynesian Ground Dove.

Maybe someone with an interest in birds will be able to make a visit to the Abemama atoll some day and clarify these questions.



[1] P. Child: Birds of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony. Atoll Research Bulletin 74:1-38. 1960
[2] A. B. Amerson Jr.: Ornithology of the Marshall and Gilbert Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 127: 1-348. 1969
[3] Robert P. Owen: A checklist of the birds of Micronesia. Micronesica 13(1): 65-81. 1977
[4] Dirk H. R. Spennemann; Hemley Benjamin: Notes on the Avifauna of Ebon Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands. Historic Preservation Office 1992


edited: 30.07.2020

A ground dove from Karoraina?

The genus Pampusana, formerly Gallicolumba and then Alopecoenas, apparently did once occur also as far northeast as to the Line Islands of Kiribati, as can be taken from an account from 1840 by Frederick Debell Bennett about a stay on Caroline Island, now named Karoraina.:

At night, on the 22nd of April, many shoal-birds came about the ship, greeting us with their hoarse cries, so prophetic of the vicinity of land; and at daybreak on the following morning, Caroline Island was seen from the mast-head, bearing N.W., distant 10 miles.

 The inland thickets contained a great number of small pigeons, with white head and neck, and the rest of their plumage of a rich brown colour.
” [1]

This account might refer to a population of the Polynesian Ground Dove (Pampusana erythroptera (Gmelin)) as suggested by David W. Steadman & Dominique S. Pahlavan or, given the extreme distance between the northernmost Tuamotuan atolls and the island of Karoraina, may perhaps rather refer to a distinct, now extinct species. [2]



[1] F. D. Bennett: Narrative of a Whaling Voyage round the Globe, from the year 1833 to 1836. London: Richard Bentley 1840
[2] David W. Steadman; Dominique S. Pahlavan: Extinction and biogeography of birds on Huahine, Society Islands, French Polynesia. Geoarchaeology 7(5): 449-483. 1992


edited: 17.03.2020

The enigmatic Washington Island Gadwall

The most mysterious of all the Pacific waterfowl is Coues’ Gadwall, Anas strepera couesi, only two specimens of which have ever been found, on Washington Island, more than six hundred miles south of Hawaii. The two specimens, the male type and a female, collected in 1874, are now in the U.S. National Museum in Washington. In appearance these birds are simply Gadwalls reduced to about two-thirds normal size. The plumage too is rather dull and somewhat unfinished-looking. Washington Island is a marshy place only a few miles long, with a small brackich lake near the centre and a fringe of palms. Since he original pair of birds were discovered, several expeditions have stopped at the island, but no one has ever seen Coues’ Gadwall again. Speculation is perhaps unprofitable, but sometimes it is irresistible. I often like to wonder how these birds ever came to Washington Island. It is my guess, for what it is worth, that these two specimens represent the last of a very small inbred breeding population of true Gadwalls which by an accident of migration had become established on the island. I suspect that their size and coloration are due to environment and inbreeding rather than to any genetic change.“ [4]

This account summarizes quite well what’s known about this bird.

Gadwall and Washington Island Gadwall (the smaller bird on the right side)

Depiction from: ‘John C. Phillips: A Natural History of the Ducks. Boston; Houghton Mifflin Company; 1922-1926’

(public domain)


Then there are some strange accounts, or rather misinterpretations of accounts, let’s start with one that is rather less known, and speaks of the occurence of a form of gadwall on the Society Islands.:

Forster met with a species of Gadwall on the Society Islands and identified it with A. strepera Linn. It is much more likely that is was C. couesi, for the range of that species doubtless extends beyond Washington Island, the only locality as yet known for it.” [2]

I read this original account by J. R. Forster, which is completely in Latin, and which merely is a enumeration of species, the duck is mentioned here just as “Anatem streperam“, that’s all, and this account almost for sure refers to the Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa Gmelin), which occurs on the Society Islands, and which is not separately mentioned here … and in fact, Forster mentiones “Anas strepera” again in an enumeration of birds he describes from New Zealand, this also clearly refers to the Pacific Black Duck! [1]


Then there’s another account in a German book, which again is refering to an account in James C. Greenway’S “Extinct and vanishing birds of the world” from the 1960s.:

Interessant ist eine weitere Bemerkung desselben Autors, wonach nach Angaben von Ripley ein auf den Tuamotu-Inseln gefundenes Entenkücken sich bei Erreichen der Geschlechtsreife als Schnatterente herausstellte.” 


Interesting is another comment of the same author [J. C. Greenway], based on which according to Ripley a duckling found on the Tuamotu islands, when reaching maturity, turned out to be a gadwall.” [6]


Okay … after purchasing J. C. Greenway’s book, which took me ages again, I can now proudly present you this abovementioned account by the ominous Ripley.:

But, on the other hand, Dr. S. Dillon Ripley tells me that a duckling taken on the Tuamotu Islands was raised by Charles Nordhoff at Tahiti. When it reached maturity it turned out to be a gadwall.” [5]

That’s all, we actually deal with hearsay, an account of an account of someone who claimes to have caught a duckling on one of the Tuamotu Islands (these are actually the largest island group in the world consisting of no less than 76 atolls, just by the way ….) without naming the island in question.

However, given the geographic position of Washington Island/Teraina, a former occurence of this bird on the Tuamotu Archipelago makes much more sense than on the Society Islands.


But now let’s take a look on what these two persons, Dr. S. Dillon Ripley and Charles Nordhoff, have to tell; we start with Mr. Ripley …:

It sometimes happens that migrating Ducks plummet down on to isolated islands in the Pacific. Mr. Charles Nordhoff told me once that a schooner captain inbound to Tahiti from Flint island, an isolated rock pinnacle three hundred miles or more north towards Hawaii from the Society Islands, brought him a duckling which he had picked up on the island. Mr. Nordhoff was able to raise the bird, and found that it was a Pintail, presumably from wild parents. If Pintails can fly so far south of Hawaii where they are in the habit of wintering, there seems no reason why Gadwalls should not be able to do the same thing.” [4]

… and go on with Mr. Nordhoff.:

In his article in the Waterfowl number of the AVICULTURAL MAGAZINE, Dillon Ripley mentions a duckling I received some years ago from Flint Island, which when reared proved to be a fine male Pintail. I believe that a good many stray Ducks from the Northern Hemisphere land on the Pacific Islands, and occasionally, as Ripley suggests in the case of Coues’ Gadwall, give rise to a sedentary and eventually inbred race. I have reliable information that Shovelers in winter plumage have vistited both the Marquesas and the Tuamotu on several occasions, and that Pintail have been seen on Atiu in the Cook Group, south-west of Tahiti.” [3]

Well, well, so the Tuamotu Islands suddenly has changed into Flint Island, which in fact is not a part of the Tuamotu Archipelago but of Kiribati – and – the duckling that was supposed to turn out being a Gadwall was in fact a Pintail (Anas acuta L.), a completely different species of duck! 

After all, we are left with probably more questions than answers.



[1] Johann Reinhold Forster; Hinrich Lichtenstein: Descriptiones animalium quae in itinere ad Maris Australis terras per annos 1772, 1773 et 1774 suscepto. Berolini: Ex Officina Academica 1844
[2] Lionel K. Wiglesworth: Aves polynesiae: a catalogue of the birds of the Polynesian subregion (not including the Sandwich Islands). Berlin: R. Friedlaender & Sohn 1891 In: Abhandlungen und Berichte des Königl. Zoologischen und Anthropologisch-Etnographischen Museums zu Dresden Bd. 3: 1-84. 1890/91. herausgegeben von Hofrath Dr. A. B. Meyer, Director des Museums
[3] Charles Nordhoff: Notes on the birds of Tahiti. The Avicultural Magazine ser. 5. 8(5): 119-120. 1943
[4] Dillon Ripley: Pacific Waterfowl. The Avicultural Magazine ser. 5. 8(3): 67-70. 1943
[5] James C. Greenway, Jr: Extinct and vanishing birds of the world. Dover Publications, 2nd Edition 1967
[6] Dieter Luther: Die ausgestorbenen Vögel der Welt. Westarp Wissenschaften 1986


edited: 28.02.2020