The Rodrigues Solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria) is an extinct, flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Rodrigues, east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Genetically within the family of pigeons and doves, it was most closely related to the also extinct Dodo of Mauritius (the two forming the subfamily Raphinae). The Nicobar Pigeon is their closest living genetic relative.
The size of a swan, the Rodrigues Solitaire demonstrated pronounced sexual dimorphism. Males were much larger than females and measured up to 90 centimetres (35 inches) in length and 28 kilograms (62 pounds) in weight, contrasting with 70 centimetres (28 inches) and 17 kilograms (37 pounds) for females. Its plumage was grey and brown; the female was paler than the male. It had a black band at the base of its slightly hooked beak, and its neck and legs were long. Both sexes were highly territorial, with large bony knobs on their wings that were used in combat. The Rodrigues Solitaire laid a single egg, that was incubated in turn by both sexes. Gizzard stones helped digest its food, which included fruit and seeds.
First mentioned during the 17th century, the Rodrigues Solitaire was described in detail by François Leguat (leader of a group of French Huguenot refugees who were marooned on Rodrigues in 1691–1693). It was hunted by humans and introduced animals, and was extinct by the late 1700s. Apart from Leguat’s account and drawing, and a few other contemporary descriptions, nothing was known about the bird until a few subfossil bones were found in a cave in 1789. Thousands of bones have subsequently been excavated. It is the only extinct bird with a former star constellation named after it, Turdus Solitarius.
This flighty and ultimately doomed constellation was introduced in 1776 by the French astronomer Pierre-Charles Le Monnier in a paper titled “Constellation du Solitaire” in the Mémoires of the French Royal Academy of Sciences. He listed 22 constituent stars and described it as a “bird of the Indies and the Philippines”.
The bird shown on Le Monnier’s diagram of the constellation resembles a female blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius, family Turdidae). Le Monnier said he introduced the constellation in memory of the voyage to the island of Rodrigues in the Indian Ocean by another Frenchman, Alexandre-Guy Pingré, who observed the transit of Venus from there in 1761. Quite why this particular bird was chosen remains unexplained, though.
The historian R. H. Allen said in his book Star Names that the constellation represented the Rodrigues Solitaire, an extinct flightless bird similar to the Dodo, but this seems to be a misunderstanding. Bode changed its name to Turdus Solitarius in his Uranographia atlas of 1801.