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,

Sosola, Safata

(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

Searching through Auckland Museum’s Documentary Heritage collection for any sign of archival holdings related to the Manumea was almost called off until rediscovery of John Gould’s illustration in his multi volume publication ‘Birds of Australia’, first published in London in 1848. Auckland Museum Research Library holds an excellent limited-edition facsimile reprint of all seven volumes.

Gould’s accompanying text for the beautiful colour plate in Volume V sheds light on the unusual inclusion of this Samoan Manumea in a publication about Australian birds. As it turns out, the specimen in the possession of Sir William Jardine from which Gould bases his illustration has provenance as the one sent some time prior by the Reverend John B Stair from Samoa to Sydney, Australia of which he alludes to in his address to the Royal Society. This Manumea had come into the possession of Sir W. Jardine by way of one Lady Harvey who had previously bought the taxidermied specimen in a sale of Australian objects in Edinburgh.

At the time of Gould’s commentary this complete provenance was not known but he reasoned that even if this bird turned out not to be Australian in origin, it still made for an intriguing inclusion in his folio for ornithologists to examine and speculate further. While in Gould’s text the Manumea is called ‘Gnathodon Strigirostris’ he alludes to other research done by American naturalist and scientific illustrator Titian Peale who is attributed with giving the scientific name Didunculus (‘little dodo’) to the Manumea.

Image credit: Thomas Eyton’s Osteologia Avium (1867  -1875), Didunculus strigirosis, Plate 22. Auckland War Memorial Museum Research Library QL 697 YET

Collections Online: Manumea (Didunculus strigirostris), Tooth-billed pigeon


Reference for article from The Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zeland (Volume 30, 1897)

Stair, B (1987). On the Red Bird of Samoa. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 30: 293.


Blog O le Manumea: Samoa's Little Dodo Bird by Rebecca Bray, Senior Collection Manager, Natural Science, and Leone Samu, Associate Curator, Documentary Heritage (Pacific Collections), Auckland Museum.

Published 26 May 2020