Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon

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Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon

Columba inornata wetmorei

ListedOctober 13, 1970
FamilyColumbidae (Doves and Pigeons)
DescriptionRed head, hindneck, breast; wing has white leading edge and colored with a red-wine wash; dark red legs and feet.
FoodPlant matter.
ReproductionClutch of one egg, up to three broods per year.
ThreatsNesting disturbance, hunting.
RangePuerto Rico


The Puerto Rican plain pigeon is a large-bodied bird (15 in [38 cm]) that resembles the common city pigeon or rock dove. At a distance it appears pale blue-gray overall. The head, hindneck, breast, and part of the folded wing are colored with a red-wine wash. When folded, the wing shows a white leading edge; in flight, it forms a conspicuous wing bar. Legs and feet are dark red. The female is slightly smaller and duller than the male. Juveniles are browner overall, with pale wing margins and dark eyes. The plain pigeon is thought to represent a fairly recent island adaption of the red-billed pigeon (Columba flavirostria ) or its close relative, Salvin's pigeon (C. oenops ), found in Central and South America. Three races of the plain pigeon are recognized: the Cuban plain pigeon (C. inornata inornata ); the Jamaican (C. i. exigua ); and the Puerto Rican (C. i. wetmorei ).


The plain pigeon breeds throughout the year, with peaks in late winter and early spring. The male defends a territory year round against other males. A mated female selects a nest site within the male's territory. Both sexes construct a flimsy platform of twigs to serve as a nest. The female lays a single egg, which she incubates for about 14 days. Chicks fledge after 23 days and are dependent on adults for the next few days. A pair may produce up to three eggs per year. Males and females brood and care for hatchlings in shifts. Adult pigeons congregate in small flocks during the height of breeding season and may form larger flocks for roosting and feeding in the fall. The plain pigeon feeds on a wide variety of plant seeds and fruits, including royal palm, mountain immortelle, West Indies trema, and white prickle.


The plain pigeon is adapted to a range of habitats. In the past, it has nested in wetlands, lowland forests, or cultivated mountain areas, including upland coffee plantations. Within its remaining range on Puerto Rico, it prefers to nest in bamboo groves or among hardwoods in canyons.


The species has been rare in Puerto Rico since at least the early part of the twentieth century. It was reported near extinction in 1926 and was subsequently considered extinct until rediscovered in 1963 near the town of Cidra, Puerto Rico. The only confirmed population of the Puerto Rican plain pigeon occurs in the east-central part of the island near Cidra and the neighboring towns of Cayey, Caguas, Comerío, Aguas Buenas, and Aibonito. Estimates indicate that the population declined to a low of about 75 birds by 1977. In 1988, about 150 pigeons were thought to survive.


The once common Puerto Rican plain pigeon suffered a severe population decline when extensive tracts of island forests were cleared during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unregulated hunting accelerated the rate of decline. Because the plain pigeon flocks seasonally, it provides easy prey for hunters. This now rare pigeon was reportedly sold for food as recently as 1961. The plain pigeon has been unable to replenish its population because of a high rate of nesting failures, caused primarily by human disturbance. Nesting sites are interspersed between villages and urban areas; some birds literally nest in the backyards of new homes. People disturb breeding birds, molest nesting birds, and steal squabs from nests.

Conservation and Recovery

A captive breeding program, begun in 1983, produced a total of 47 squabs by the end of 1988. Recovery efforts are now focused on releasing captive-bred pigeons to establish new populations in the wild.


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Regional Office, Division of Endangered Species
1875 Century Blvd., Suite 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Boquerón Ecological Services Field Office
P. O. Box 491
Boquerón, Puerto Rico 00622-0491
Telephone: (787) 851-7297
Fax: (787) 851-7440


U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1982. "Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon Recovery Plan." U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Atlanta.

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Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon

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Puerto Rican Plain Pigeon