Back Forty—Wildlife: Doves of South Central Texas
While seven species of dove call Texas home, I will focus on the five species that can be seen in our area: the white-winged dove, the mourning dove, the common ground dove, the Inca dove and the Eurasian collared dove. All of these species share similar brown/gray coloration with most of the color variation in the wings.
White-winged doves are easily recognized by the white patch on the wing seen as a narrow strip on the lower edge of the wing when the bird is perched. Adults are slightly larger than mourning doves and have more rounded tail feathers. Mature white-winged doves will have bright blue coloration around the eye and bright pink legs while juvenile birds lack that bright coloration.
In the early 1920s, the white-winged dove population was estimated to be several million. Due to habitat loss from agriculture and heavy hunting pressure, populations declined to just 500,000 by 1939. Populations hit a low in 1951 with just 110,000 birds estimated in Texas (Taylor et al. 2006). Populations have recovered well and are currently strong, likely benefiting from urban sprawl. White-winged doves are a social species that can be seen in flocks of more than 50 birds in urban areas and surrounding agriculture areas.
Mourning doves are very similar to white-winged doves in appearance with the most obvious difference being the absence of the white bar on the wing. Mourning doves are the only species in which the tail feathers come to a point.
Mourning doves can be found in all areas of Texas, and due to their expansive range, the estimated population of mourning doves in the United States is drastically higher than any of the other dove species. The species’ large range has buffered the population from factors that have greatly influenced populations of other dove species in the past.
Mourning doves are more commonly seen in large numbers in rural areas and select areas with bare ground such as dirt roads, agricultural fields and grazed areas. While they are still present in urban settings, they don’t typically occur in large numbers like white-winged doves do.
Ground doves are considerably smaller than mourning doves or white-winged doves. Their size is comparable to a sparrow. They are easily distinguished by their size, rufous color patch on their wings seen in flight and their short black tail feathers. Ground doves are not as common as white-winged doves or mourning doves but can be seen somewhat frequently in farmlands, dirt or gravel roads and open areas near brush.
Inca doves are a petite species and have a more scaled pattern than ground doves. The tail of an Inca dove is longer than that of a ground dove and forms a square shape. Inca doves also have a rufous colored wing that is easily noticed in flight. Like ground doves, Inca doves are a relatively uncommon species; therefore, no hunting is allowed for either species.
Eurasian Collared Doves
Eurasian collared doves are an exotic species that also prefer to inhabit rural areas. This species was first observed in Texas in the mid-1990s and since has quickly spread throughout the state. They are larger than both the mourning and white-winged doves and are commonly seen sharing areas with both of those species.
The introduction of an exotic species increases the competition for food and nesting sites and often places native species at a disadvantage. Since collared doves are an exotic species, TPWD doesn’t regulate their harvest, so they don’t count toward the daily dove bag limit during hunting season.
Doves are known as pickers as opposed to scratchers. They pick seeds off the surface of what is typically bare ground in feeding areas while many other birds such as turkey and quail scratch at the soil to find seeds. Doves predominantly feed on seeds with a smaller portion of their diet coming from mast, the edible portion of woody plants.
Females of all species almost always lay two eggs at each nesting event. Up to five nesting attempts can be made each year depending on habitat conditions and the bird’s health. Incubation times among species vary slightly ranging from 12 – 16 days with an average of 14 days.
Both the male and female share caretaking duties, and males typically will sit on the nest during midday hours while the females disperse to feed. Both males and females produce pigeon milk that is secreted by the crop to feed their young. After a few days, young are fed regurgitated seeds. The young will typically leave the nest within 14 days and receive gradually reduced care from the adults over the next two – three weeks. The life span of dove averages about 1.5 years with a few individuals surviving past their first year.
Doves are attracted to ground-level water, and these areas commonly allow for foraging as well as water consumption. Unlike most other birds which fill the beak with water and then tilt their heads back to swallow, doves have the unique ability to draft water through their beaks like a straw.
Doves are almost unique because they are commonly seen in both urban and rural areas. While inhabiting urban areas can pose additional threats, doves seem to be a rare example of wildlife that benefit from ever-increasing urbanization.
by Mark Lange
Wildlife biologist for Austin and Colorado counties
Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
The Roundtopolis is home to wildlife and habitat. The Register is proud to offer information from the biologists at Texas Parks & Wildlife Department in both the wildlife and urban wildlife programs. For more information about wildlife programs in the area, call the TPWD District Wildlife Office in La Grange at 979-968-6591, contact the Urban Wildlife Program at 210-688-6447 or find your local biologist at www.tpwd.state.tx.us. (Click on “Wildlife” and then “Find a Wildlife Biologist.”)