Rare wild pigeon sighted in Nepal

A Green Imperial Pigeon spotted for the first in Nepal by wildlife photographer Devendra Kharel in Jhapa last week. Photos: DEVENDRA KHAREL

On 24 November, wildlife photographer Devendra Kharel was near Nepal’s lowest point in Jhapa district when a bird perched on a nearby tree caught his eye.

He instinctively peered through his camera’s tele lens and he could not believe what he saw. Could it be the Green Imperial Pigeon that he had only seen in bird books? 

The bird had never been sighted in Nepal before, so to make sure Kharel emailed some of the photographs he took to Nepal’s most prominent ornithologist Hem Sagar Baral at Bird Conservation Nepal.

Baral confirmed that it was indeed a Green Imperial Pigeon and its sighting at only 70m above sea level on Nepal’s south-eastern tip near the Indian border. The reason Devendra Kharel’s sighting on 24 November is important is because it added the Green Imperial-Pigeon to Nepal’s bird list.

With more and more dedicated wildlife photographers like Kharel, the number of new bird species in Nepal could increase further and encourage further growth of Nepal as a destination for bird tourism. 

For example, birders in Bhaktapur recently spotted Eurasian Curlew for the first time in 50 years in Kathmandu.

Nepal has nearly 10% of all bird species found worldwide, and among them 77, mostly migratory birds, are seriously threatened. A further, 167 species are nationally threatened.

The Green Imperial Pigeon is known by its scientific name Ducula aenea, and has green-tinted feathers on its back, tail and wings, a pearl grey neck, chest, and abdomen. The nape of its neck and its legs are reddish, while its beak is bluish in colour. The pigeon's back has a rainbow hue, and it can even change its colour with the weather.  

The bird survives on leaves, wild fruit, and flowers and has a lifespan of 6-7 years, the Green Imperial Pigeon inhabits forested areas up to 1,000 m above the sea level in the subcontinent and has been spotted in southeast Asia as well.


Nepal is home to a variety of wild and domestic pigeons, most of which might look the same to the unaccustomed eye. Indeed, one can find wild pigeons by the hundreds on the cliffs of Chobhar in the Kathmandu Valley and in other parts of the country.

The chapter 'Variation under domestication' in Charles Darwin's 1859 book On the Origin of Species discusses the origins and diversity of breeds of pigeons. Darwin postulated that all domesticated pigeons originated from the wild pigeon species Columba livia, the common pigeon. He said there were many subspecies of domestic pigeons native to different geographical families that might differ only in small details from one another. 

In Nepal, the common pigeon Columba livia is also called malewa. Domesticated some 10,000 years ago, a subspecies was christened Columba livia domestica. Pigeons in Nepal are differentiated, and can be identified, by the altitudes at which they live. There are lekaali malewa, or hill pigeons (Columba rupestris) that live on crevices on cliffs, and himali malewa, or snow pigeons (Columba leuconota) which inhabit the high Himalaya. 

Green Imperial Pigeon spotted in Sri Lanka. Photo: ERIC TAAN

Three other subspecies of wild pigeons are also found in Nepal -- the common wood pigeon (Columba palumbus), the speckled pigeon (Columba guinea) and the ashy wood pigeon (Columba pulchricollis).

Carol Inskipp et al wrote in their 2016 book The Status of Nepal's Birds: The National Red List Series (Volume 2) that only one subspecies of the Ducula pigeon -- the mountain imperial pigeon (Ducula badia) has been found in Nepal. Inskipp’s book will now have to be amended.

Kamal Maden is a botanist.