White-Winged Doves: From the Deserts of the Southwest to Backyard Bird Feeders
Our entire backyard has gone "to the birds," literally. Everything I have planted - proso millet, amaranth, sunflowers - was planted for their benefit. And, I guess it has paid off for the bird-lover in both of us. Here in New Mexico we always have a yard full of white-winged doves (Zenaida asiatica), mourning doves (Zenaida macroura), and Eurasian collared-doves (Streptopelia decaocto), who all insist on trying to get into our bird feeders despite the piles of food I put on the ground just for them. But, that's okay. The bird feeders haven't fallen yet and the smaller birds that visit don't seem to mind the doves. As a matter of fact, the smaller birds tend to eat the food that is out there for the doves, so I guess turnabout is fair play.
A Beautiful Sound
Some of the most common sounds around the southwest are the “whoo-ooo-oo, ooo-oo” calls of the beautiful white-winged doves, as they perch on rooftops, trees or on the ground. In the evening at about sunset, to hear that call is very soothing, indeed. To hear that sound, to me, indicates that there are no preying hawks in the immediate vicinity. One such predator recently conducted a dive-bombing maneuver in our backyard and flew away with one of our precious doves but when I hear their calls I know they are safe...for now.
When you feed any birds in your backyard, you take the chance that your yard will come on the radar of a hawk out looking for his next meal, and the "circle of life" is a depressing thing when your backyard visitors become victims. This article will, hopefully, tell you everything you need to know about the beautiful white-winged dove.
Doves as Prey
When a predator approaches the nest of a white-winged dove, the dove will often feign a broken wing to lead the unwelcome intruder in another direction. Sometimes, they escape by flying directly into dense bushes. Some of the more common predators of all doves include fox, coyote, owls, hawks, bobcats, snakes, and domestic animals such as cats and dogs, although the doves are not considered to be threatened or endangered.
The Need for Water and Safety
White-winged doves, like all birds, must have water and will fly miles to get it when necessary. Most of their drinking is done in the early morning and late evening but before they drink, as we have witnessed, they will land nearby so that they can survey the area for several minutes before approaching the water.
Once they determine the area is safe enough they drink quickly by submerging their bill and taking in the water in a continuous draft. Once they have taken in a few long sips, they are satisfied and quickly fly away. Their cautious habit usually allows them to drink in relative safety.
In the deserts of New Mexico, vegetarian white-winged doves eat the fruit of the saguaro cactus. Across much of its range, it eats grains and crops like corn, wheat, sunflower, milo, and safflower. It will also eat the fruit and large seeds from plants such as spurge, panic grass, bristlegrass, Mexican jumping beans, Chinese tallow, leatherweed, and lime prickly-ash. The White-winged dove apparently prefers large seeds because of its large bill and gape, which are typical, along with its slower eating style (unlike mourning doves, the white-winged dove pecks slowly). White-winged doves also commonly feed above ground level, on seedheads, berries, and raised bird feeders. Like many other species of birds, they will consume small stones to help pulverize plant material in their gizzards. As a source of calcium, they can even be found eating snails and small bone fragments.
White-Winged Dove Distribution Map
Courting and Nesting Behavior
We have often been confused about the behavior of the white-winged doves in our backyard because they will occasionally slap at each other with their wings and strike at another dove's bills. We know now that all of that activity is related to their courting and nesting behavior. Apparently, when they call out or flail their tail or wings, they are defending their perches or nests.
The male white-winged dove, when they are courting, will spiral up into the sky and return to the branch from which he began in a winged glide. Their will either bow, fan their tale or puff up their necks in an effort to entice a female dove to mate. They are monogamous and will remain together for at least one breeding season.
When it comes to nesting, the male dove will choose the territory and a general nesting site, but the female is the one to choose a specific nest site, which will usually be on a tree branch. The white-winged doves that live in populated cities usually choose to nest in large shade trees like live oak or pecan. Away from populated areas, however, they prefer the interior of dense woodlands, especially areas along streams.
The female and male both participate in nest-making but the male will gather the twigs, bringing them to the female who will do the actual construction over a period of a few days. The nest, mostly made of twigs, may also have weeds, moss or grasses arranged in a bowl of sorts on which to lay the eggs. Although rare, the nest may also be lined with bark, feathers, leaves or pine needles, assuming the availability of the preferred lining items is limited.
The female white-winged dove will usually lay one or two eggs in the nest, each of which will be about an inch in length. The eggs are a creamy white or buff color and have a dull texture. The incubation period is from two to three weeks. Once the nestlings hatch, they will remain in the nest for about the same length of time. The weak, uncoordinated hatchlings are born with their eyes closed. The skin is dark and coated with long off-white down feathers.
- https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/white-winged-dove (Retrieved from website 8/08/2018)
- Book of North American Birds (1990), White-winged Dove, Reader's Digest Association, Inc., Pleasantville, New York/Montreal (Page 76)
- https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-winged_Dove/lifehistory (Retrieved from website 8/08/2018)
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Mike and Dorothy McKenney