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Facing Facts About Doves

Think you know one type of dove from another? Not so fast!


With it being in the throes of dove season hereabouts, I thought I'd let you in on a little-known secret concerning those birds of peace. You're going to be incredulous, but I was wrong. I made a mistake. I goofed! There, I feel a whole lot better.

And just what was my error? I misidentified a species of dove and even wrote about it as such. I didn't know about my goof, which actually happened nearly three years ago, until a friend named Holly told my wife that Eurasian Collared Doves were actually just feral pigeons.

Right off I got on the Internet to prove her wrong. After all, I know my doves — at least I thought I did. Oh, I was right about the fact that the species wasn't a pigeon for sure. But in the process of researching the topic, I found out that the species I had written about and called the Eurasian Collared Dove was not that, but in fact is actually the African Collared Dove. Duu'uh!

I thought the light-brown, sorta-mottled birds with a black collar on the top of their necks in my backyard were the Eurasian variety. But Wikipedia and Sibley's Bird Guide set me right.

These birds were in my former backyard, where I resided two years ago, but the simple correction also explains the mysterious color phase of all of the doves in my current backyard, too. I was recently theorizing that, because the current collared doves were of a slate-gray color much akin to the common mourning dove and the whitewing, they had evolved to this gray color in order to adapt to all of the other doves, or maybe because they now resided in woodlands.

So when my sources illuminated me, it was a shock to realize that the current birds were truly Eurasians, the doves in my previous backyard were Africans due to their mottled light-beige coloration.

Up until that point I did not know that there were two distinct species of collared doves. As it turns out, I have two African Collared Doves among the 50 or so Eurasians in my current yard. I also learned that there is a third species of Collared Dove and that is the White Collared Turtle Dove, and one of them has visited my yard off and on for two summers now, but it rarely comes around.

All three of the minority "collareds" are males. They are big birds who challenge the other males by posturing with right wing raised in defiance of the others when all come to the feeder. By the way, all of the males of any of the three species, plus the male Whitewings, raise only their right wings in confrontation. I wonder if that means that birds are right- or left-winged the way we humans are right- and left-handed?

I've read that the African and Turtle Species are the birds of choice at weddings, to be ceremonially released. Internet sources claim the three species can interbreed and do so in small pockets of wild populations. My Sibley's Guide, however, says the species can't wild-breed. Who really knows?

I tend to believe the former source since at my previous yard I watched as the Africans grew from two pairs to over 30 birds in three summers.

I'm not alone in my previously mistaken beliefs, though, as I've now talked to several folks who have seen all three collareds and thought that they were Eurasians.

While dove hunting, I shot a Eurasian; the body was larger than the mourning dove and slightly bigger than the Whitewing. The breast-meat is a dark liver-color and was quite tasty when cooked in olive oil.

All three larger species have that unique black collar on the back of their necks, which goes only halfway around. They all three also have a light-colored band of feather tips on their tails, very similar to feral and wild bandtailed pigeons, which is probably why Holly made her own mistake.

Our feeder in the woods also has Mourning doves and Whitewings coming to it, but strangely their numbers have hardly increased at all compared to the larger doves. There are two pair of each in the yard. The Mourning doves stay pretty much to themselves, while the Whitewings mix freely with all species. Actually, the male Whitewings are quite feisty, not giving an inch when a slightly larger collared comes to dine.

I can't say what a Turtle Dove sounds like, but both the Eurasians and the Africans have a somewhat raspy "coo," quite loud. It sounds as if a Mourning Dove has a sore throat.

Interestingly, at the feeder, there is a pecking order of sorts. Everything ignores the small sparrows and such, allowing them to feed on the tray with the larger birds, but the Gambel's Quail bully all of the larger birds, including the menacing-looking thrashers, driving them from the feeders along with the jays, phoebes and Mourning doves.

But it is a different ball game when the collareds show up. The males readily dispatch the quail from the area and the game birds do not ever try to challenge the doves.

Even though when afield, I readily shoot all of the species of doves, I give them amnesty in the yard, as I do the quail, cottontail bunnies and jackrabbits. Even the pesky and mostly unwanted ground squirrels get a free pass. We enjoy watching all of their antics about the feeder and yard and, besides, we spend a heck of a chunk of change to feed them all!

Speaking of bullying, we had a grizzled old gray-colored ground squirrel who drove off all of the other squirrels and was quite violent about it. He was much larger than his brethren and he lived in the brush pile below the feeder for the last two years, until one day in July when I found his stiff form lying about four feet inside the fence.

I turned him over to find two puncture wounds in his belly and some more on his back. The critter had always been mean and fast, but Barney-Dawg was better at being both — and he hates squirrels! Especially the bullying kind, I guess. There is an old saying that he who lives by the sword will die by the sword; how true, how true.

By the way, strangely, The Dawg gives all others a free pass within the confines of the fence, even the quail and doves. They have fed within yards of his lying, awake form and he ignores them entirely.

Why is that strange? Because out on the hunt Barney is a great finder and retriever of such winged critters! Go figure.

As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may the Forever God bless you out and about too.


Larry Lightner writes Ramblin' Outdoors exclusively for Desert Exposure.


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