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Rodriguez Solitaire Picture

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The Rodrigues Solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria) was a flightless member of the pigeon order endemic to Rodrigues, Mauritius. It was a close relative of the Dodo.

It was first recorded by François Leguat, the leader of a group of French Huguenot refugees who colonised the island from 1691 to 1693. He described the bird in some detail, including its solitary nesting behaviour. The Huguenots praised the birds for their flavour, especially the young ones.

Due to hunting and predation by introduced cats, the birds soon became scarce, and when Cossigny attempted to get a specimen in 1755, none could be found. The Rodrigues Solitaire probably became extinct sometime in the 1730s or maybe 1760s. The exact date is somewhat difficult to determine: there exist a few reports of "solitaires" from the Mascarenes without mention of which island these came from, and the term was also used for other species with "solitary" habits, such as the enigmatic oiseau bleu and the "Réunion Solitaire".

A large number of bones of the bird have been collected, but there are no mounted specimens. Solitaires are distinguished by an unusual large, gnarled knob of bone at the base of the thumb. In life this knob would have been covered by a thick layer of skin and used as a weapon (a similar, smaller thumb knob is seen in Canada geese). Observations of the solitaire indicate that breeding pairs were highly territorial; presumably they settled disputes by striking each other with the wings. To aid this purpose, the males especially had well-developed knobs on their wrists, up to the size of a musket bullet.

Systematics Old illustration.

The dodo and the Rodrigues Solitaire, collectively termed didines, consititute what is best interpreted as a subfamily Raphinae in the pigeon family, although often, they are considered a full-fledged family Raphidae.

Comparison of mitochondrial cytochrome b and 12S rRNA sequences (Shapiro et al., 2002) isolated from remains of the Rodrigues Solitaire and the Dodo confirms their close relationship. It has also been interpreted to show that the Nicobar Pigeon is their close living relative.

But at least the cytochrome b gene sequence is not well suited to resolve the phylogeny of the Australian, Pacific and Southeast Asian pigeons"?the very group to which the Nicobar Pigeon belongs. Biogeography suggests that the ancestors of the dodo and solitaire indeed derived from some ancient form in the Indo-Australian pigeon lineage(s), but until genes are sequenced that give a less ambiguous picture, the evolutionary connection between the Raphinae and the Nicobar Pigeon must remain a hypothesis not too well supported by the available data.

It has been suggested (see Janoo 2005) that the didine group should be dissolved and the dodo and solitaire placed in an existing subfamily of the Columbidae, but this is problematical. Given the morphological distinctness of the Raphinae, the fact that they constituted a distinct evolutionary lineage, and their closer relationship to some pigeons than to others, it seems best to retain them as a distinct subfamily at least, until better data on their relationships"?possibly including fossils of their ancestors"?is available. This species' ancestors probably diverged from those of the dodo around the Paleogene-Neogene boundary; see the Raphinae article as to why the often-cited date of "25 mya" is spurious.

See also
  • Extinct birds
  • Island gigantism

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