Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris), Tooth-billed pigeon
The Manumea is the national bird of Samoa and is found nowhere else in the world. A species of ground pigeon, the Manumea has a large head and hooked beak. One of the closest living relatives of the extinct dodo, the scientific name for the species (Didunculus strigirostris) means little dodo.
The Manumea plays an important role in the forests of Samoa by distributing the seeds as it feeds on native fruit trees, and the aerial tubers of the wild yam (Dioscorea bulbifera). Its large beak allows it to feed on fruits that smaller pigeons can’t eat. There is still a lot to learn about the biology of this elusive species.
In the past, the Manumea was hunted as a source of food and its feathers have been used by Samoan women to decorate fine mats. Populations of Manumea underwent a huge crash in the 1900s likely due to invasive animal pests and loss of habitat. The species is currently classified as Critically Endangered by the ICUN Red list of Threatened Species. It is thought that less than 200 individuals can now be found in the remote forest uplands of Upolu and Savai’i. Click here to find out more about the Manumea and the conservation work by the Samoan community to save this species.
The Manumea in flight has been described as a distant rolling thunder through the forest. Reverend John B Stair, in his 1987 article to the Royal Society of New Zealand, details a traditional story and often heard canoe-song about the Manumea.
“Tradition states that on one occasion a company of atua (warriors) were put to flight, on the march to the scene of action, through mistaking the noise of the distant rumbling caused by this bird on the wing for the rapid approach of a body of opposing troops. They broke, and fled in dismay…”
Pa, lulu le manu, e,
(With the thunder-crash the bird flies,
And Safata runs away!)
Image credit: Gould, J. The birds of Australia : in seven volumes with Supplement [i.e. Vol. 8]. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library, QL 693 GOU