Monday 6 August 2012

Fruit lovers on Efate, Vanuatu

The two most easily accessible trip reports I have read on birding in Vanuatu reported mixed success in finding the two fruit doves on the islands.

One birder birded almost exactly the same area as me - immediately west of Port Vila on Efate. He reports hearing red-bellied fruit dove regularly but not being able to see them. (although he did see more species overall than me!)

The second birder spent most of his time on the more northerly island of Espiritu Santo. He had no trouble finding this bird but failed to see the endemic Tanna fruit dove.

I must admit that for the first two days, I too only heard red-bellied fruit dove without seeing one. 

Then I started looking up. More specifically I started looking at the very top of the very tall fruit trees in the resort's (Benjor Beach Resort) gardens and right in front of my chalet.

adult red-bellied fruit dove

I have met this phenomenon before on my trip in Samoa. If a planted garden includes both a significant number and different types of tall fruit trees,it acts as a magnet for fruit doves. There seems to be no need to go searching for them in remote and more natural surroundings. 

I first noticed red-bellied fruit dove. They certainly are well camouflaged but on the plus side, they seemed reluctant to move, feeling safe up in the top branches. 

near adult red-bellied fruit dove 

I had some trouble identifying all the birds so I showed some of them on bird forum for expert help. The one above turns out to be a near adult red-bellied fruit dove.

Tanna fruit dove

I also showed the above picture and it turns out to be the endemic Tanna fruit dove. This was seen in mid- morning. Once it was identified I was keen to return and got more pictures of the species. I returned just before dusk.

A second Tanna fruit dove

From this second bird you can see why two alternative names for this endemic as silver-shouldered fruit dove and yellow-headed fruit dove.

By the way, as I understand it the Tanna fruit dove is more common on the more southerly islands (Tanna itself is further south than Efate) and so the birder on the more northerly Espiritu Santo was trying to find a bird which is much rarer on that island.

Juvenile red-bellied fruit dove

The above bird on the same tree caused the most identification issues. Apparently many juvenile fruit doves have this green appearance with yellow feather fringes. However, it can be marked out as a red-bellied fruit dove by the yellow head stripe which is common to virtually all ages of the bird.

Emerald dove

Most laymen (including staff I spoke to) in the resort only ever see the more obvious emerald dove. It spends more time on the ground than the other doves. There are two things to say about this bird. First, it is shy and won't allow close approach before being scared off. Second, the sub species here has a purple head, breast and vent. In other places these colours are more subdued. Nevertheless in flight in particular the overall impression is most definitely green even in this sub species.

Pacific Imperial pigeon

These three doves were not the only ones in the resort's gardens!  In another corner in one of the largest trees I came across two Pacific Imperial pigeon which I had failed to see until then on any of the other Pacific islands. This gave me my fourth dove lifer in the gardens.   

silhouette of Rainbow lorikeet

Finally there was one other fruit lover which was very much in evidence in the gardens and it screams.  The trouble was it screamed after it had left a place and I never got a good photograph. It is rainbow lorikeet which is common in northern Australia but another lifer for me.

In the next blog, I'll look at all the other birds on Efate.


  1. Hi! I bsolutely love your website. I'm contacting you because I would really like to use one of your tanna fruit dove photos for a local language book of birds for Pentecost island, Vanuatu. Would you be willing to give permission for this? (it is a community-oriented piece of work and absolutely not for profit. Please see my website for my address/background and let me know your thoughts. Thanks. Kay

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