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Land-birds on the French Polynesian Atolls

André Intès


Egretta sacra

Nesting land-birds 


Pacific Reef Heron    Egretta sacra  Gmelin            ‘otu’u

The plumage of these small herons can be of two different colours:  there is a grey phase and a white phase. The white phase seems to predominate in general on the atolls. However, the two phases seem to have been evenly distributed among the 150 individuals counted on Tikehau in October 1984. These birds can be frequently seen on the coral reefs and the beaches, where they are fairly conspicuous because of their size. They nest mainly in the trees and bushes growing on the islets, and sometimes simply on the ground. The nests of small colonies tend to be clustered together, but they can also be isolated, far from those of the colonies.


Spotless Crake      Porzana tabuensis  Gmelin         meho  

Although sooty crakes are quite inconspicuous birds, they can certainly make themselves heard: they often emit a shrill cry to defend their territory, especially at dawn and nightfall. Their habitats are quite varied, but there is usually some fairly dense vegetation at ground-level. 

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On Tikehau, sooty crakes have been observed in marshy hollows, where they build their nests.  Observers reported in 1986 that the nests were built in marshy places,  and described the nests as being made of Cyperaceae (sedge) leaves and having a round, hollow shape with flared edges


Atoll Fruit Dove    Ptilinotus (purpuratus) coralensis  Peale         o’o

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The atoll fruit dove is quite tame but tends to be rather inconspicuous. Its large numbers seem to be due to the generous supply of small fleshy fruit which form the basis of its diet. The atoll fruit doves inhabit the woods and fallow areas on the atolls. .

A dozen or so pairs were counted on Tikehau. These birds build their nests in various trees and bushes, often preferring the more xerophytic ones. The nests are roughly constructed with just a few twigs.


Blue Lorikeeet         Vini peruviana  P.L.S. Müller               Vini  

The presence of lorikeets on many of the atolls was reported during the 19th and 20th Century expeditions, but in many cases, these reports were only recently confirmed to be true.

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At least 22 pairs have been counted on Tikehau, where they inhabit the south-eastern corner, on both sides of the pass. Observations carried out on this atoll have confirmed the there are lorikeet nesting in the hollows of dead coconut palms and other trees.


Tuamotu Warbler     Acrocephalus caffer caffer  Sparrman       ‘otatare

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The Polynesian warbler is an endemic species. There are 21 existing and extinct forms in all, which can be sub-divided into two groups. The Tuamotu atolls are frequented by A. caffer caffer: these tiny birds have a pale plumage, which makes them well adapted to the sparse, xerophytic vegetation.

Approximately 50 pairs were counted on Tikehau, where they are to be found all round the atoll ring. Their nests are built in the bushes and shrubs, around forked branches. They are goblet-shaped and made with various materials, nearly always including coconut fibres.  The bottoms of these deeply-hollowed nests are lined with finer components.


Common Myna        Acridotheres tristis  L.       

These Common Myna are present only on those islands on which they were introduced.  They have been rarely encountered on the Tuamotu atolls, but can be seen on Hao and Morurua, where they were first introduced in 1971. This species is known to inhabit the coral Society Islands (Scilly and Bellingshausen). The rather shapeless nests consist of a heap of accumulated materials of various kinds. They are often to be found near places of human habitation.


Polynesian sandpiper        Aechmorhynchus cancellatus  Gmelin

Sandpipers used to be common in Polynesia, but their numbers were greatly reduced by the introduction of predators such as cats and rats. These birds are exceptionally tame, which makes them easy prey. Only a few atolls are thought to be still home to these increasingly rare sandpipers. There exists only one description of their nests, according to which they are made of dry grass placed in a hollow near a lagoon


Polynesian Ground Dove      Gallicolumba erythroptera  Gmelin   amaho

Most of the populations of this species seem to have become extinct, but there may still be a few survivors on the islands where no predators were introduced. On Tikehau, the Polynesian ground dove seems to have disappeared for ever since the great cyclones occurred at the beginning of the 20th Century. There exist no descriptions of this species' nesting habits.


Makatea Fruit Dove      Ptilinotus chalcurus  G.R. Gray

The Makatea fruit dove is an endemic species, which is always present in large numbers. These birds frequent both densely and sparsely wooded areas, and feed on fruit. No descriptions of their nests or their eggs have been published so far.


Pacific Pigeon     Ducula pacifica  Gmelin

One colony of Pacific fruit pigeons is still living on Pukapuka, and another on Makatea. These birds are forest dwellers, but they are also to be found in the undergrowth of coconut groves, where they find fruit to feed on. Their nests are roughly built with twigs. The numbers have greatly decreased because of the game-shooting which goes on in this part of the world.


Tuamotu Kingfisher    Halcyon gambieri  Oustalet

This species is now extinct on Gambier, but it is said to still exist on Niau. These kingfishers are attracted to coconut groves, where they feed on insects, and even on lizards. The mates take turns to hollow out the nest in the dead and rotting remains of coconut palms.


Visiting land-birds 


Lesser Golden Plover   Pluvialis dominica  P.L.S. Müller         torea

During the winter, from September to April, large populations of lesser golden plovers are to be seen on the northern and central Tuamotu atolls. Many individuals stay on the islands in the summer, but in this case, they do not acquire their nuptial plumage. No nest-building activities have ever been reported in Polynesia as far as these birds are concerned. 

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Their favourite habitats are open spaces, often with no water nearby. On Tikehau, it was estimated in October 1984 that there were between 400 and 700 individuals living on the island.


Bristle-thighed Curlew        Numenius tahitiensis  Gmelin            teue

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Curlews are frequent visitors to Polynesia, where they spend the winter. Most of the winter population (from April to May) and part of the summer population are to be found on the Tuamotu atolls. This is the most common of the limicoline birds after the Wandering Tattler and the Lesser Golden Plover.

They frequent the reefs and open spaces of all kinds.  On Tikehau, they have  been seen perching on trees, truncated coconut palms and Pandanus plants.  


Wandering Tattler    Heteroscelus incanus  Gmelin                 ‘uriri

These are the most widespread and most numerous limicoline birds to be found in Polynesia, where they stay every year from July to April or May. Here again,  part of the population stays on in Polynesia during the summer. They frequent the beaches and reefs, as well as the river banks and the various other watersides available. During their migratory flights, these birds sometimes congregate in hundreds, but on reaching the atolls, they disperse to the various winter sites.  It has been estimated that the winter population numbered 300-500 individuals on Tikehau in October 84.

Ruddy Turnstone   Arenaria interpres  L.

Although turnstones probably migrate every year to Polynesia, their numbers are not very large. They are mainly to be seen on the beaches of the atolls. Only half a dozen individuals were observed on Tikehau in October 1984


Sanderling      Calidris alba  Pallas

These birds also probably migrate regularly to Polynesia, but only in small numbers. They have generally been seen in small groups of up to a dozen individuals. 

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They were spotted on Tikehau in October 1984 and on Takapoto in January 1986


Pectoral Sandpiper    Calidris melanotus  Vieillot   

Although these birds have rarely been observed in Polynesia, they may actually visit the atolls every year. They tend to frequent the edges of lagoons, rivers and ponds. They were reported for the first time in French Polynesia in October 1984, when four members of this species were spotted near a soft-water pond on Tikehau.


Long-tailed Cuckoo   Urodynamis taitensis  Sparrman     arevareva, pii ua

Although these cuckoos are not very numerous, they seem to have a fairly large habitat, which covers most of eastern Polynesia. They can be seen all year round, although they have mostly been observed between March and April. They tend to frequent woods and gardens near the shore. These birds were observed on Tikehau in May 1985 and in March 1986.


Lesser Yellowlegs       Tringa flavipes  Gmelin

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This sandpiper, which commonly inhabits the North American continent, is known to frequent Hawai, and according to one rather doubtful report, it may also have visited the Cook Islands. 

At least 4 individuals were watched for one week in December 1984 on Takapoto,  on the soft-water ponds of the coconut grove and in the region of Tournefortia. Several photographs of these birds were also taken on this occasion.  

mise à jour : 10/07/2008