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World Museum’s ‘Liverpool Pigeon’ related to the Dodo

16 July 2014 by Emma Duffy

Painting of Spotted Green Pigeon

The Spotted Green Pigeon by Joseph Smit from Bulletin of Liverpool Museums 1898

Every day working for National Museums Liverpool I learn something amazing, and today is no exception! A ground-breaking genetic study, published today, has proven that World Museum’s Spotted Green Pigeon (Caloenas maculata) specimen is not only unique, but related to the extinct, flightless bird; the Dodo.

Scientists at Griffith University in Australia invented a new way of extracting and purifying tiny fragments of DNA from the feathers of the 230 year old pigeon. The study of the DNA has shown, for the first time, that the World Museum specimen is unique; the only surviving representative in the world (in the world!) of a bird species which was related to the Nicobar Pigeon of Indonesia and distantly related to the Dodo of Mauritius.

The Spotted Green Pigeon is officially listed as extinct by BirdLife International. It is often referred to as the ‘Liverpool Pigeon’ after the city in which it is kept, but it would have come from either the Indian subcontinent, southeast Asia or Oceania.

To coincide with the fascinating study being published, we are putting this rare specimen on public display for two weeks from Wednesday 16 July to Wednesday 30 July. Due to its fragility and sensitivity to light, the object is usually kept behind the scenes at World Museum, looked after by our zoology experts in environmentally-controlled conditions.

Clem Fisher, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at World Museum said:

“We are very pleased that the extinct Spotted Green Pigeon, often known as the ‘Liverpool Pigeon’ as its home is in the magnificent bird collections of National Museums Liverpool, has its correct place in the world of birds finally, after more than 230 years.

“Tim Heupink’s ground-breaking genetic research, analysing small fragments of Ancient DNA from tiny pieces of feather, proves the Spotted Green Pigeon is unique and a distant relation to the Nicobar Pigeon, the Rodrigues Solitaire and the Dodo of Mauritius.”

Dr Tim Heupink, from the Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith University, Australia said:

“This study improves our ability to identify novel (new) species from historic remains, and also those that are not novel after all. Ultimately this will help us to measure and understand the extinction of local populations and entire species.”

The only surviving specimen of the Spotted Green Pigeon in the world

The only surviving specimen of the Spotted Green Pigeon in the world

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