Courtship Behaviour and Iris variation in Little Cuckoo-Doves Macropygia ruficeps

on 19th April 2023

On 17th April 2023 I was in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, Malaysia saw quite a number of Little Cuckoo-Dove (Macropygia ruficeps), some were expressing courtship behaviour. 

Image 1

The composite image 1 shows the classical courtship behaviour of the pair. They would disengage from the social group. The female would sit on a branch often watching the male. The male would ruffle up the neck feather and then proceed to bow many times while making low intensity calls. At times the female would also make responsive calls. I also saw males ‘chasing’ females as is often seen with other dove courtship. 

Image 2
Image 3

What struck me during this observation was the iris colour changes. The male’s pupil would be constricted and the iris at times was near pinpoint, giving a ‘white-out’ look. The female iris would be unchanged (see image 2 and 3). A close up of the iris differences is seen in the composite image 4. 

Image 4

The males and females were in similar lighting environments. I also saw males that were not in courtship with iris similar to the females. 

I have not seen this in the literature but I am fairly certain now that the white-out iris is part of the courtship display by males.


Dr David Wells responded to the observation:
“Striking! The pupil is tiny relative to female’s, caused by iris muscle contraction (ring muscles?). Not sure what this might do to the width of the iris itself but this has certainly whitened – perhaps a physical reflectance change due to muscle contraction? Outer margin of the iris is easily found at this stage so perhaps the whole eye dilates, causing more of its ‘white’ to be exposed. Also has a narrow black eyelid rim, heightening contrast. No-one has noticed this sort of thing before.”

Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS

Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia


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