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The scaly-naped pigeon is a large slate grey pigeon (14–16 in), with maroon coloured plumage around the neck. The plumage on the species' nape appears scaly, explaining both the common and scientific names of the species. There is a bare patch of skin which surrounds the birds red eyes; this patch tends to be reddish in males and more yellow in females. The legs and the base of the bill of the species are red, while the remainder of the bill is light coloured.