The Philatelist’s Pick: Fauna and Flora, Part III: Endemic bird species

This new blog series features birds (and flying mammals) species from Mauritius: endemic and those brought in over the years. This first blog in the series looks at some endemic bird species that are featured on stamps.

There is a total of 119 bird species in Mauritius, of which 15 are endemic (11 in Mauritius and 4 in Rodrigues) and 25 are indigenous species. Sadly, about 15 known species are now extinct. They are (the scientific name and approximate extinction date are shown in brackets):

  1. The dodo (Raphus cucullatus, 1662);
  2. The broad-billed or raven parrot (Lophopssittacus mauritianus, 1680);
  3. The red rail (Aphanapteryx bonasia, 1760);
  4. The Mauritian grey parrot (Lophopsittacus bensoni, 1770);
  5. The fruit pigeon or Dutch pigeon (Alectruenas nitidissima, 1840);
  6. The owl (Otus commerson, 1650);
  7. The owl (Tylosauzieri, 1850);
  8. The Mauritius Shelduck (late 17th C); and
  9. The Mauritius Night Heron (late 17th C).

The 4 extinct species of Rodrigues Island are:

  1. The Rodrigues Parrot,
  2. The Rodrigues Rail,
  3. The Rodrigues Starling, and
  4. The Rodrigues Solitaire.

The dodo

Scientists confirm that the dodo lived for thousands of years on the island of Mauritius. The bird was made extinct before the end of the 1600s by the introduction of men and various animals such as pigs, deers, rats, monkeys, cats and dogs. However, it was difficult to imagine what it looked like. We had to rely on drawings and paintings, in particular the one printed in an edited version of Admiral Cornelius van Neck’s journal published in 1601, after visiting Mauritius in 1598.

The first representations of the Dodo on stamps date back to the pictorial series of King George VI in 1950, and reproduced in 1954 in Queen Elizabeth II pictorial series on the 60cs stamp.

Both stamps  show the Dodo and a map of Mauritius. The King George VI 12 cs stamp shows the latitude incorrectly as 21° 10´ (instead of 20° 10). This ‘error’ was corrected when the same design stamp with the head of Queen Elizabeth was issued in 1954.

The dodo also features on our Coats of Arms and was the mascot of the “Jeux des Iles de l’Ocean Indien, organised in Mauritius in 1985.

Image result for stamps dodo mauritius Image result for dodo on stampsImage result for jeux des iles ocean indien stamps

25 June 2007: The Dodo finally gets its own Official First Day Cover

It is only in 2007 that a set of postage stamps/ souvenir sheet issued by the Mauritius Post portrayed different representations of the Dodo, through drawings and paintings of various artists at different times.

2007 25 June - The Dodo FDC

  1. Rs. 5 shows a drawing found in the Journal of Admiral W. Harmenszoon, who visited Mauritius in1601 and published in the Gerlderland. The journal has 4 drawings of the living Dodo and one of a dead one;
  2. Rs. 10 is a drawing by Adrian Van de Venne, picturing a rather fat dodo, drawn around 1626. It can be found in the library of the University of Utrecht;
  3. Rs 15 is a painting which appeared in a publication by Harrison, Cluse and co, in 1798;
  4. Rs 25 is a chromolithograph by J. W. Frohawk, taken from Lord W. Rothschild’s Extinct Birds, published in 1907.

The FDC is a reproduction of the Dodo’s head from a bronze statue situated at Ile aux Aigrettes.

On that occasion, a souvenir sheet was also released

The souvenir sheet shows a nice painting by Julian Pender Hume, a paleontologist and painter. It shows a reconstruction of endemic fauna of Mauritius.

MS Dodo 2007

…and the whole set (4 stamps and souvenir sheet) was nicely bundled in a presentation pack 

2007 25 June - The Dodo presentation pack

Birds unique to Mauritius

Birds unique to Mauritius include several species that have been rescued from the very edge of extinction including the Mauritius Kestrel; the Pink Pigeon, and the Echo Parakeet. Other endemic birds include the Mauritius Olive White-eye, the Mauritius Gray White-eye, the Mauritius Cuckooshrike, the Mauritius Bulbul , the Rodrigues Warbler, the Mauritius Fody, and the Rodrigues Fody. The Mauritius Paradise Flycatcher  is sometimes considered a distinct species from the one occurring on Reunion.

On 16 March 1965, a set of 15 postage stamps was released. They featured a selection of endemic birds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. Of the 15 stamps, 5 are sadly extinct.

1965 - 16 March - Birds definitive series

The series include the 10 living birds, some of which are considered as endangered and vulnerable. They are subject to a vast programme of conservation and protection, which helped to save the most vulnerable of them. These are:

  1. the Grey white-eye or oiseau manioc on a 2cs stamp, a native bird which can be found in various parts of the island. It is not considered as an endangered specie and can be easily recognized by its prominent white rump;
  2. the Rodrigues Fody, or oiseau jaune on a 3cs stamp, a yellow-breasted bird, native to Rodrigues. This specie has become rarer over the years;
  3. the olive white eye or oiseau pit-pit on a 4cs stamp, a rare bird which can be seen in forest areas. It is the smallest of Mauritian songbirds and is easily identified by the bright white circles around their eyes, a dull olive-green upper body with lighter underparts. Males and females look very similar and are small in build. These birds can be found in the forested areas of Black River Gorges National Park and the Macchabée-Bel Ombre Biosphere Reserve.
  4. the Paradise Flycatcher or coq des bois on a 5 cs stamp, an increasingly rare bird, which can still be seen in protected forest areas. The male has a blackish head with a grey band around its neck, throat, breast and belly. The upper parts are a deep chestnut and the tips of the wing are black. The bill has a bluish hue and the legs are grey. The females are very similar, but are smaller and less brilliant than the males;
  5. the Mauritius Fody or cardinal on a 10cs stamp, a small endemic songbird that at one time was extremely common but is now sadly, also endangered. It can still be seen, if you are lucky, in the forests of the Black River Gorges National Park. The male Mauritius Fody has brilliant red plumage from its head to its chest, with an orange patch on his rump during the breeding season – which earned it the name of ‘cardinal’. The female is far duller than her male, with olive-brown plumage and slightly darker wings;
  6. the Echo Parakeet or grosse cateau verte on a 15cs stamp, is an emerald green, vibrant, endemic parrot to Mauritius and is the last remaining species of Mascarene island parrots. It can only be seen in the Black River Gorges area. Females and males differ: males have a marking that looks like a neck collar that the females don’t have and red upper beaks, whereas the beak of the female bird is pitch black;
  7. the cuckoo shrike or Merle cuisinier on a 20cs stamp, one of the rarest bird found only in remote forest areas. There are differences in colour between males and females. The male’s upper parts are grey, with white underparts. The upperparts of the female are brownish with rufous underparts.
  8. the Kestrel on a 25 cs stamp, one of the world’s rarest birds, which came very close to extinction in the 1970s. In 1974 when there were only four individual birds left. Thanks to extensive conservation efforts, these birds can now be found in their natural habitat where they are thriving and breeding successfully.  Interestingly, both the female and the male are very similar in appearance and they have short wings, long tails and legs with short talons. The upper body is a deep chestnut with black markings while the underside is a creamy white with dark sports.
  9. the pink pigeon or pigeon des mares on a 35cs stamp, a type of pigeon found in the Columbidae family endemic to Mauritius. Like the Mauritius kestrels, these unique birds were critically endangered in the 1990s (there were only 10 individuals of this species left in 1991) and remain incredibly rare today. Their survival today is due to the intensive conservation efforts. They can be seen in the upland forests around Black River Gorges. 
  10. the Mascarene Bul-bul or merle on a 50cs stamp. It is characterized by bright yellow-brown eyes, pink legs, and an orange to yellow-hued bill. Its plumage is generally greyish contrasted with a black crest. In earlier times, it was often served as a dish on festive days. Later, its main threats shifted to the replacement of their forest habitat, notably by tea plantations  and predation by the introduced crab-eating macaque. In the mid-1970s, only 200 pairs remained, but then the decline was stopped. Today it is rare but has a quite stable population.

The series also include 5 extinct endemic species, namely:

  1. the Blue or Dutch Pigeon on a 60cs stamp. The name of the bird came from the colours of the plumage, which looks like the Dutch flag. The bird was first mentioned in the 17th century, but very few accounts describe the behaviour of living specimens. Several stuffed and at least one live specimen reached Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. Only three stuffed specimens are known today. The species is thought to have become extinct in the 1830s due to deforestation and predation.
  2. the dodo on the Re. 1 stamp, a unique and large bird, of the family of pigeons. It became extinct between 1681 and 1693.
  3. the Rodrigues Solitaire on the Rs. 2.50 stamp, a relative of the Dodo, believed to have evolved independently on Rodrigues Island. The Rodrigues Solitaire laid one egg each year, which was a little larger than that of a goose. It became extinct towards 1760;
  4. the Red Rail or poule rouge on the Rs. 5 stamp. The rail was approximately of the size of a domestic hen. It could not fly because of its wings and was consequently an easy prey of fowlers on the island. It became extinct about 1675; and
  5. the Broad-billed parrot on the Rs. 10 stamp. The overall plumage, slate-blue colour of this bird made it a remarkable specimen of indigenous birds of Mauritius. It had short wings and was probably incapable of flying. It is believed to have been one of the first victims of human settlement and was exterminated towards 1650.

A set of 4 postage stamps was released in 1967, one year before independence on the theme birds of Mauritius.

1967 Self Gov Commemorative issue Birds Sep

The stamps feature the following birds:

  1. the Paille en Queue or Red-tailed tropicbird on the 2cs stamp: This remarkable bird that inspired the logo for Air Mauritius, is a gorgeous seabird found along the shores of many tropical islands and in Mauritius, where you stand a chance to see both the beautiful red-tailed and the white-tailed tropicbird. These wonderful creatures are easily identified by their long, trailing tail feathers and distinctive bills (red tail feathers and red bill, and white tail feathers and yellow bills respectively). While both the red-tailed and white-tailed tropicbirds are solitary by nature, the red-tailed species is quite a bit larger with their average weight being around 800g compared to the white-tailed tropicbirds 350g. Catch these beautiful creatures gliding elegantly in phenomenal arial displays during the breeding season. 
  2. the Rodrigues brush warbler or rousserole de Rodrigues, on the 10 cs stamp, an endemic bird species found only in Rodrigues, but which is highly endangered. It is a medium-sized bird, with relatively long bill and legs, long graduated tail, and short wings. It has a yellowish supercilium and short dark eyestripe. 
  3. the Rodrigues Parakeet (Necropsittacus rodricanus) on the 60 cs stamp, is an extinct species of parrot that was endemic to  Rodrigues. The Rodrigues parrot bore similarities to the broad-billed parrot of Mauritius, and may have been related. The Rodrigues parrot was green, and had a proportionally large head and beak along with a long tail. It was the largest parrot on Rodrigues. By the time it was discovered, it frequented and nested on islets off southern Rodrigues, where introduced rats were absent, and fed on the seeds. It was last mentioned in 1761, and probably became extinct soon after, perhaps due to a combination of predation by rats, deforestation, and hunting by humans.
  4. the Mascarene (Mauritius) swiftlet on the Re. 1 stamp, is a species of swift in the family Apodidae. It is found in Mauritius and Réunion. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical lands and forest. It is threatened by habitat loss.

In 1968, six stamps of the 1965 bird issue were re-printed, in different colours as shown in the unofficial FDC below.

1968 Special bird issue FDC


The Mauritian kestrel

The Mauritius kestrel (Falco punctus) is a bird of prey from the family Falconidae, endemic to the forests of Mauritius, where can only be found on the Western plateau’s forests, cliffs and ravines. It is the most distinct of Indian Ocean kestrels. 

It is a relatively small bird, of a size between 26 and 30.5 cms, for a weight of about 250 grams. The males are slightly smaller than the females. Their wingspan is approximately 45 cms and their wings are rounded, unlike other falcons. They can live up to 15 years in captivity. The Mauritius kestrel is carnivorous: it eats  geckos, dragonflies, cicadas, cockroaches, crickets and small birds.

As from the 1960s, with the increase in population, deforestation and the introduction of chemical fertilisers, such as DDT (to eliminate malaria for ex.), the population of kestels declined sharply and the species became critically endangered. The recorded population dropped to an all-time low of only 4 individuals in 1974 and it was considered the rarest bird in the world. With the support of the Wildlife Foundation and various institutions, a vast programme of conservation was undertaken in the 1980s.

The Rs. 5 stamp released in 1978 as part of a set of 4 postage stamps, and featured on individual covers on the below WWF cover honours the Mauritius kestrel, one of the rarest birds in the world.

21 September 1978: Mauritius Wildlife, World Wildlife Fund First Day Cover

1978 21 Sep - Mauritius wild life SC4

A predatory bird, the kestrel hovers in the air over open fields while it searches for mice, moles, lizards or shrews. When it sees its prey, it will dive steeply downwards, grasp the small animal in its talons and swoop away to a nearby perch to devour it.

Also on 26 March 1984, the Mauritius post released an official first day cover on the Kestrel Issue

1984 26 March Kestrel

The four stamps show the following:

  1. 25 cs, shows 2 kestrels in a courtship chase;
  2. 2.50 stamp, shows a juvenile kestrel
  3. 2 stamp, features a full portray of a kestrel; and
  4. 10 stamp, illustrustes a head portrait of the kestrel (and reproduced on the cover envelope).

Mauritian Pink Pigeon

The pink pigeon (Nesoenas mayeri) or pigeon des mares, is a species in the family Columbidae, and is endemic to Mauritius. Habitat degradation, introduced predators, and wildlife disease are the major ongoing threats to the pink pigeon’s survival. The pink pigeons were critically endangered in the 1990s, when only 10 individuals had been recorded and are still considered as very rare. It is the only Mascarene pigeon that has not gone extinct.

 Will extensive support from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust since 1977, the number of pink pigeons have substially increased. In 2011, there were about 500 birds.

On 2nd September 1985 the Mauritius post released a on official first day cover on the theme Mauritius Pink Pigeon 

1985 2 Sep - Pigeon des mares OFC

The official first day cover features 4 postage stamps, as follows:

  1. 25 cs, showing an adult and a juvenile pigeon;
  2. 2, featuring a nest site display;
  3. 2.50, highlighting an adult in his nest; and
  4. Rs 5, showing a couple of adults, in mutual preening.

The World Wild Life Fund released also a set of individual covers, official proof editions as well as maxi cards to mark this special edition. They are all featured below.

1985 - WWF special cover 21985 2 Sep - WWF Special cover 11985 2 Sep - WWF special cover 31985 2 Sep - WWF Special cover 4

 1985 2 Sep - pink pigeon offical proof_31985 2 Sep - pink pigeon official proof_1

1985 2 Sep - pink pigeon official proof_21985 2 Sep - pink pigeon official proof_4

1985 2 Sep - WWF Postcard_11985 2 Sep - WWF postcard_2

1985 2 Sep - WWF postcard_41985 2 Sep - WWF postcard_3

Echo Parakeet or grosse cateau verte

The echo parakeet or Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula eques, also known as grosse cateau verte) is an parrot endemic to Mauritius. It has dark green plumage with a black collar. Males have a red beak whereas females and juveniles have black beaks. It is arboreal, usually found in upper tree branches. Feeding during the day, it mainly eats fruit and flowers, supplemented by leaves, seeds, buds, shoots, twigs, and bark; more leaves are eaten in the winter when fruit is scarce.

The population of the Echo Parakeet  began to decline in numbers and range in the mid-1800s. By 1986 the population was estimated to be 8–12 individuals. The present wild Echo Parakeet population is restricted to an area of less than 40 km2  of remnant native upland forest within the 6,800 hectare Black River Gorges National Park.

The survival of this species is threatened by the limited availability of natural nest sites and food, competition from exotic birds such as Indian Mynahs and Indian Ring-neck Parakeets, predation by introduced mammals including Ship Rats and Crab-eating Macaques, and disease.  

On 18 March 2003, a set of 4 postage stamps showing echo parakeets was issued. The echo parakeet endemic only to Mauritius was very common in the 18th and 19th century, but gradually disappeared, as was close to extinction.

2003 19 March Echo Parakeet FDC

The stamps depicts on:

  1. Re. 1 denomination shows a chick;
  2. Rs. 2 denomination shows a fledging parakeet;
  3. Rs. 5 denomination features a female parakeet and
  4. Rs. 15 denomination pictures a male parakeet. 

With the support of the Wildlife Preservation Trust in 1987, a full scale programme was launched to carry out captive breeding to save the specie. This set of 4 enveloppes have been published by WWF, along with the set of 4 maxi cards, featured below.

2003 19 March - Echo Parakeet WWF_42003 19 March - Echo Parakeet WWF_3

2003 19 March - Echo Parakeet WWF_22003 19 March - Echo Parakeet WWF_1

2003 19 March - Echo Parakeet postcards_1

2003 19 March - Echo Parakeet postcard_2

Bats of Mauritius and Rodrigues.

Bats are not birds, but mammals. In its series on Mauritius wildlife released on 21 September 1978, the Rs. 1.50 stamp features the Mauritian flying fox. 

1978 21 Sep - Mauritius wild life SC3

In 1978, the WWF cover honoured the the flying fox, a large fruit bat, indigenous to the Island of Mauritius. These mammals, with their sharply pointed foxlike snouts are features on the stamp and on the original engraving on the envelope.

The diet of the flying fox consists entirely of the juice of sweet, aromatic fruits such as mangos, papayas or litchis. The flying fox can have a wingspan of over 5 feet and is covered with dense, variably covered fur tinged with dark brown. They measure up to 16 inches and have very large eyes with keen eyesight. The claws on their index finger as well as on their thumb allow the bats to cling to tree branches while sleeping. Sometimes, if the night air is cool, they wrap their wing membranes tightly around their bodies. When the temperature rises however, the wings open and gently fan the air. This their body temperatures remain relatively constant.

Active mainly in the evening and at night, prefer high trees as resting places. At rest, the flying fox is a gregarious animal, often roosting in large groups.

On 28 March 2014, in its series “Fauna and Flora” a set of 3 postage stamps was issued.

2014 28 March - Fauna and Flora

The Rs 14 stamp represents the rousette of Rodrigues (Pteropus rodricensis) a fruit bat, now only found in Rodrigues. The population of the bat has declined rapidly making it a critically endangered specie. An education programme to raise awareness about conservation of the bat was very successful

TheRodrigues Rousette was featured on an amazing maxi card, released by the Birdman of Mauritius, with the Rs. 14 stamp of the Fauna and Flora series, released on the same day as the official first day cover. 

2014 28 March - Bats postcard


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