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Topknot Pigeon: A Bird Like No Other

Topknot Pigeon

Topknot Pigeons Exploring the Life and Ecology of Australia’s Crested Rainforest Pigeons


Australia’s diverse birdlife includes many distinctive species, and the Topknot Pigeon (Lopholaimus antarcticus) is one that stands out due to its unique appearance and ecological role. This article provides an in-depth look at the Topknot Pigeon, covering its taxonomy, physical characteristics, distribution, habitat, diet, breeding, conservation status, and the part it plays in maintaining the health of its rainforest home.

Fascinating Topknot Pigeon Facts

  1. Topknot Pigeons are the only member of the genus Lopholaimus.
  2. Their distinctive crest is grey in the front and russet-brown on the crown with black sides.
  3. These pigeons are highly nomadic and can travel great distances in search of fruit.
  4. Topknot Pigeons are exclusively frugivorous and play a crucial role in seed dispersal.
  5. Unlike some other pigeons, they do not use grit to break down seeds in their crop.
  6. The breeding season of Topknot Pigeons is linked to the fruiting cycles of rainforest trees.
  7. Their calls include a soft “coo-oo, eee,” a louder “coo-oo, ooo,” and a quiet, croaky “cor-or.”

Taxonomy and Scientific Classification

English naturalist George Shaw first described the Topknot Pigeon in 1793, initially naming it Columba antarctica. It is now the sole member of the genus Lopholaimus. Genetic research has shown that the Topknot Pigeon is closely related to the mountain pigeons (Gymnophaps) of New Guinea, and they share a common ancestor with the kererū and Chatham pigeon.

Physical Description

The Topknot Pigeon is a large pigeon, measuring 40–46 centimeters (16–18 inches) in length, with a predominantly slate-grey plumage. Its most striking feature is the crest on its head, which is grey at the front and russet-brown on the crown with black sides, giving it a swept-back appearance. The back, wings, and tail are darker grey, with black primaries and a broad grey band on the tail. The underparts are lighter grey, and the chest and hind neck feathers have dark bases, creating a streaked look. The bill is rose-red and feet are are purplish red, and the eyes have a yellow-golden iris with a bright red outer band.

With a 10.4-inch wingspan, 6-inch tail, and 1.25-inch tarsus. These birds spend the majority of their time in densely forested areas.

Distribution and Habitat

Topknot Pigeons are found in eastern Australia, from Cape York Peninsula in Queensland to the central south coast of New South Wales. They are highly mobile and can travel long distances to find fruit-bearing trees. These birds primarily inhabit rainforests and nearby wet forests and woodlands, particularly in moist, sheltered gullies. On rare occasions, they may be spotted in eastern Victoria or Tasmania.

It is also found in a number of other countries in the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Topknot Pigeon Distribution CC BY-SA 4.0
Topknot Pigeon Distribution CC BY-SA 4.0

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Topknot Pigeons are strictly frugivorous, relying entirely on fruits for their sustenance. They eat a variety of rainforest fruits, including figs (Ficus spp.), and their diet varies based on the availability of ripe fruits throughout their range. Unlike some other pigeons, Topknot Pigeons do not use grit to break down seeds in their crop, so the seeds remain intact as they pass through the digestive system. This makes Topknot Pigeons important seed dispersers in their rainforest habitat.

The topknot pigeon is a social bird and can often be found in small flocks. It has a distinctive call that it uses to communicate with other members of its group. It is also known for its graceful flights, soaring effortlessly through the trees.

Breeding and Nesting

The breeding season of Topknot Pigeons is linked to the fruiting cycles of rainforest trees. Nests and eggs have been observed from June to December. A nest is a platform of twigs that is usually built high up in a forest tree or at the top of a tall tree-fern that grows well up on the hills’ ridges. The single egg is white and 1.70 X 1.18 inch in size. The female will lay a single egg, which is incubated by both parents for a period of around two weeks. Once the chick hatches, both parents care for it until it is old enough to fend for itself. In captivity, both sexes participate in incubation, which lasts 17–24 days.

Vocalizations

Topknot Pigeons have three main calls: a soft “coo-oo, eee,” possibly associated with nestlings; a louder “coo-oo, ooo”; and a quiet, croaky “cor-or,” similar to a domestic pigeon. When flocking and feeding, they produce a short, harsh call, which some compare to the sound of a distant flying fox or domestic pig.

Conservation Status

In the past, Topknot Pigeons were abundant in Australian rainforests, but their numbers decreased significantly due to habitat loss and hunting. They are now protected in Australia. The IUCN currently lists the species as Least Concern, as populations seem to be stable and sizeable, despite some fluctuations. The spread of camphor laurel trees, an introduced species, has provided a new food source, contributing to a recent increase in Topknot Pigeon numbers.

The Topknot Pigeon is a distinctive and important member of Australia’s rainforest ecosystems. Its unique appearance, nomadic lifestyle, and fruit-based diet set it apart from many other bird species. This pigeon plays a crucial role in seed dispersal, helping to maintain the health and diversity of its rainforest habitat. While past threats led to population declines, conservation efforts and the species’ adaptability have helped stabilize their numbers. By studying and understanding the Topknot Pigeon, we gain valuable insights into the intricate relationships within Australia’s ecosystems and the significance of preserving these remarkable birds for the future.

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