The Tooth Billed Pigeon

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The Dodlet was a name given by the 19th Century English biologist, Sir R. Owen, to the Tooth-billed PIGEON (Didunculus strigirostris) of the Samoan or Navigators' Islands.  The name was intended to be a diminutive of Dodo, (as its scientific appellation Didunculus is of Didus).  The hooked bill of the Tooth-billed Pigeon presents an outward resemblance to that of the celebrated extinct inhabitant of Mauritius.  However, Didunculus differs remarkably from the Dodo, and is part of the Columbidae family (DOVES and PIGEONS), in which it forms its own Subfamily known as Didunculinae.  The Dodo, on the other hand, is recognised as having been part of the Raphidae family, both this and the Columbidae family being part of the Columbiformes order.

The name given by Sir R. Owen was not adopted, but for convenience sake this curious bird is here here treated under it. The species must have been first observed in October or November 1839, when the Samoan Islands were visited by the United States' Exploring Expedition under Commander Wilkes (Narrative, etc. pages 87-116, London 1845), and Strickland seems to have first publicly announced the discovery at the meeting of the British Association held at York in September 1844, when he Stated (Report, etc. page 189) that "among other rarities" obtained on the voyage by Mr Titian Peale, the naturalist of the expedition, was "a new bird allied to the Dodo, which he proposes to name Didunculus."

The earliest description of it that appeared was accompanied by an illustration, and was published by Jardine (Ann. Nat. Hist. xvi: page 175, plate 9), just a year after, under the name of Gnathodon (J. E. Gray.had already, in 1836, forestalled the use of this name for a genus of Mollusca) strigirostris, from a specimen which had been sent home, probably by some missionary, and was bought in a sale at Edinburgh. This, and those brought by the American explorers, were for a long while the only specimens known to have reached any civilized country.  In 1847 Reichenbach conferred on this bird a new generic name, Pliodus, for an invalid reason (see his Vog. Neuholl, ii. page 158, note), but courtesy required what custom had acceded, and the oldest generic name applied to it was commonly adopted, though the full title of the Tooth-billed Pigeon, Didunculus strigirostris, was not bestowed until 1848, when Peale's work on the zoology of the Expedition to which he was attached put matters straight.

In the late 19th Century many specimens were brought to Europe where they could be seen in many museums.  The interest taken in this species, chiefly because of its supposed - but realy very slight - affinity to the Dodo, and of the belief that it would speedily undergo the same fate, had already caused legends about it to spring up by that time, and statements were made to the effect that it had changed its habits so as to ensure its safety from the numerous enemies which civilization had introduced.  Living examples have several times been taken to Sydney, and 3 have been exhibited in the Zoological Gardens in London.  The first of them, obtained through the care of Doctor George Bennett (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1864, page 158), laid an egg (Proc. Zool. Soc. 1867, page 164, plate. xv.figure 6) which was of the normal Columbine form and nearly of the normal Columbine colour.  It must be confessed that the species, the speedy extinction of which sadly seems possible, due to loss of its forest habitat in the late 20th and early 21st Century, was not lively or attractive as a cage-bird.


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