Bird of the Month

(From top) Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, and White-winged Dove. Photos copyright Robert Schrantz
(From top) Eurasian Collared Dove, Mourning Dove, and White-winged Dove. Photos copyright Robert Schrantz
The four doves most commonly seen here in Las Cruces are the Mourning Dove, the Eurasian Collared-Dove, the White-winged Dove, and the Inca Dove. The plumage of the first three is grey and white and they’re all within about an inch of each other in size, with Mourning Doves 12 inches, Eurasian Collared-Doves 12 1/2 inches, and White-winged Doves 11 1/2 inches. In contrast, the Inca Dove is smaller (8 1/4 inches) and its plumage is a scalloped looking brownish grey with chestnut patches visible on the wings in flight. For a size comparison, the American Robin measures 10 inches. This month we’ll compare the Mourning Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and White-winged Dove as they’re the most likely to be confused. Next month we’ll focus on the Inca Dove.

In all but the Southern and Western states, the Mourning Dove is the most common dove in this country. It’s long and slenderly pear-shaped and has a long, stiff, pointed tail. In comparison to its body, a Mourning Dove’s head appears to be almost ridiculously small. This combination of features —small head, slender neck, plumper body, long tail — makes for a distinctive silhouette when the bird is perched that one observer described by guidebook author Pete Dunn “…a teardrop with a tail or a pear on a stick.”

Mourning Doves are greyish tan, darker above than below, with black spots on their upper wings. Adults show a rosy pinkish wash on their breasts that stands out more on some birds than others, on which it’s very pale. Juvenile birds are heavily spotted with a scaling effect on their wings and underparts. Adult males display a small cluster of white and a pink patch on either side of their neck, while pale blue eye rings surround their jet black eyes. Females lack the white and pink neck feathers and their eye-rings are grayer, but this can be hard to see. Juvenile birds have even grayer, harder to see eye rings. Adults of both genders also have a black crescent below each eye.

Mourning Doves take off in an almost vertical explosion of whistling wings, with tails flared open in a jagged diamond shape showing white edges and tips and black spots on their tail feathers. Their flight is very fast and direct with wings sharply angled back that can make you think at first that you’re seeing a falcon, but Mourning Doves twist, turn and list from side to side while flying, falcons don’t.

Eurasian Collared-Doves are, on average, only half an inch longer than Mourning Doves, but are bulkier, so appear much larger. Males and females have identical plumage. Their tails are shorter and broader than those of Mourning Doves and are squared off with a white band at the very end. In flight, their tails fan out and all but the two central feathers are dark with white ends. The whole bird is much lighter colored than either Mourning or White-winged Doves, and some are almost white. A black (outlined in white) slash or collar — giving them their name on the back and side of their neck extends to almost under their orangey red black irised eyes which are surrounded by a white eye-ring. Their outer wing feathers are dark grey to black.

Eurasian Collared-Doves often perch on grain elevators, roofs and (with White-winged and Mourning Doves) power lines or poles. They fly frequently, but rarely go far, and when they do, their wings don’t whistle. In flight, the contrast between the light back and black wing feathers is even more noticeable than at rest.

“White-wings” are still the most common of these three species in Las Cruces, but over the past several years, Eurasian Collared-Dove numbers have been increasing. Both appear to be a bit larger than Mourning Doves than they truly are because of their greater bulk.

The large wing patches that give White-winged Doves their name are best seen in flight. At rest, they’re just thin white lines on the edge of their folded wings, and sometimes don’t even show. No other North American dove has them, though so they’re an easy bird to identify.

The rest of their plumage is a bit grayer and paler — except the top side of the tail that’s tan—than a Mourning Dove’s and they also lack their black wing and tail spots. However, as their smaller cousins do, White-winged Doves also sport a black — but it’s larger — facial crescent. They also have more than an eye ring. It’s an oval pointed on both ends and extends from behind the eye to the base of the bill and is a slightly darker blue than a Mourning Dove’s eye ring. Combined with their reddish orange eyes with black irises, this gives them a baleful look. Like the Eurasian Collared-Dove, both genders display the same plumage. Immature birds have a paler face, but this can be hard to spot.

Unlike Mourning Doves, “White-wings” don’t lift off vertically into flight. They do, however, make more of a clatter and you can actually hear their wings hitting against other as they take off, but there’s no whistling of air through their feathers. They fly fast and direct without the twisting and turning of Mourning Doves and the shortness of their tails truly stands out.

All three of these doves forage by themselves or with each other for seeds on the ground. Mourning Doves tend to wander about on bare or sparsely vegetated ground, bobbing their heads and pecking at seeds. White-winged Doves prefer large open areas but, as we know, also come to backyards with bird feeders. They’re not exclusive ground foragers like Mourning Doves and perch on stronger seed-bearing plants (and feeders). Yards, roadsides, and parking lots seem to be where Eurasian Collared-Doves prefer to forage and they go for more unkempt yards rather than well-groomed ones. They also strut around bobbing their heads and pecking randomly at seeds just as Mourning Doves do.

All three species are also easily identifiable by call. Mourning Doves have one of the most widely recognized (and misidentified) bird songs in North America. Many people will tell you it’s an owl. The mournful six note cooing call begins with three “Whos” slurred together and is followed by three “whos” spaced slightly apart with the final one sometimes being hurried. The White-winged Dove’s call is sometimes described as “Who, who, who cooks for you?” And if you hear a three noted “who” or “coo” with the final note a bit lower in tone and preceded by a slight hesitation, you’re hearing a Eurasian Collared-Dove. They also make a most un-dovelike descending nasal bray reminiscent of nothing so much as a cross between a whine and a cat with a scratchy throat meowing.