The Closest Living Relative to the Dodo Is a Rainbow-Hued Knockout

The color plumage of the Nicobar pigeon. (Photo: Jaochainoi/Shutterstock)

The world is brimming with "fancy" pigeons these days, but the biggest showstopper of them all is the rainbow-feathered Nicobar pigeon.

The vibrant creature is named for the Nicobar Islands, one of the most isolated island chains in the world. Flocks of these pigeons have a tendency to hop islands in search of food, so they have a fairly sizable range, extending thousands of miles across the Malay Archipelago to places like Palau and the Solomon Islands.

In addition to its fantastic iridescent plumage, one of the Nicobar's biggest claims to fame is its status as the closest living relative to the now-extinct dodo bird of Madagascar (pictured at right). The only known species that is closer to the dodo, the Rodrigues solitaire, is also extinct. The tight-knit relation between these three birds is a boon to scientists studying evolution.

"Island taxa such as the dodo and solitaire often represent extreme examples of evolution," Oxford zoologist Alan Cooper tells National Geographic. "By examining island birds we can investigate how evolution works — because extreme examples are often the best views of how something works."

Thankfully, unlike the dodo and solitaire, the Nicobar isn't nearing extinction ... at least, not yet. According to the Lincoln Park Zoo, which has several of these avians in residence, the Nicobar pigeon is considered near threatened "due to overhunting and predation by introduced species, such as cats and rats."

Close-up of the Nicobar pigeon's colorful feathers. (Photo: Kris Wiktor/Shutterstock)