The Nilgiri Wood Pigeon (Columba elphinstonii) is another endemic bird species of South India, residing in the Western Ghats. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies it as ‘Vulnerable’, and describes its geographical range, population, habitat and ecology as follows:

Columba elphinstonii is thought to be endemic to the hill-ranges of the Western Ghats, south-west India, occurring from north-west Maharashtra south, through Karnataka and Goa, to southern Kerala and western Tamil Nadu. The species does not necessarily occur across all suitable forest patches in Sahyadri Tiger Reserve – a part of Northern Western Ghats, which is suggestive of possible overestimation in the current projected range of the species in Western Ghats. However, observations by Subramanya (2005) and those posted in ebird (2016) suggest that the species may occur, on adjacent hills like Nandi Hills, outside Western Ghats region, which suggests a possible underestimation of the species distribution outside Western Ghats region. It was once considered common and widespread, but has undergone a major decline, which is thought to be continuing owing to on-going forest loss.

The population is estimated to number 2,500-9,999 mature individuals based on an assessment of known records, descriptions of abundance and range size. It is virtually confined to moist evergreen, semi-evergreen forest, and moist deciduous forest (which may be used as corridors for local movements including densely wooded ravines and hollows (“sholas”), chiefly in foothills and mountains up to c. 2,250 m, but there have been an increasing number of records in the lowlands down to 20 m. Breeding has been exclusively recorded from natural forest but it does forage in ‘Wattle’ and mango plantations and occasionally visits moist deciduous forest, Pinus and Eucalyptus plantations to roost and preen. It is absent from tea and Acacia plantations. Most breeding takes place in montane temperate (shola) forests above 2,000 m and in very low densities in evergreen forests in mid-altitudes at 900 to 1,800 m.

It appears to make some nomadic movements in response to food availability and perhaps colder weather suggesting that its dispersal range is much larger than for most other species in the Western Ghats. A study of its diet using direct observations and faecal sampling indicated that it feeds on the fruits of at least 39 plant species, the seeds of 11 species, flowers and leaf buds of four species and some ground-dwelling invertebrates. The same study found that fruits of species in the family Lauraceae were the most preferred. The species forages mainly by gleaning, predominantly at the edges of the upper and middle canopy, and the frequency of fruit consumption is correlated with fruit abundance. It generally breeds in March-July but has been recorded starting in November-December (Subramanya 2005).

 A handsome bird, the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon is a large species with a greyish head and chestnut-maroon underparts. The back of the neck bears a striking black-and-white pattern. It is most closely related to two species – the Sri Lanka Wood Pigeon (Columba torringtoniae) of Sri Lanka, and the Ashy Wood Pigeon (Columba pullchriocollis) of Southeast Asia. While the former is a Vulnerable species, the latter is a species of Least Concern.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows an illustration of the Nilgiri Wood Pigeon (Columba elphinstonii). It appeared in a book, ‘Birds of Asia’ (Volume VI) by John Gould (1804-1881), an English ornithologist and wildlife artist, and Henry Constantine Richter (1821-1902), an English artist famous for his natural history lithographs. The illustration dates back to the time period between between 1850 and 1883.

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