Inca Doves – Bird of the Month

You may spot an Inca Dove in your yard. They’re smaller than White-Winged or Mourning Doves.
You may spot an Inca Dove in your yard. They’re smaller than White-Winged or Mourning Doves.
Last month, I highlighted some of the differences and similarities between Eurasian Collared-Doves, Mourning Doves, and White–winged Doves. The Bird of the Month for April is the other wild dove one is likely to see around the Las Cruces area, the Inca Dove.

Inca Doves are small, slender, brownish-grey doves found primarily in the southwestern United States, Mexico and western Central America. They adapt remarkably well to human presence and so their preferred habitats are urban and suburban areas. Being ground foragers, they’re frequently seen in yards with bird feeders or shrubby, seed-bearing areas where they walk mincingly along bobbing their heads and pecking at the seeds on the ground. They are so well adapted to human disturbance to the environment that their range is spreading both north and south, so that now in the United States, they’ve been reported in Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, parts of Lousiana and Florida, plus Nevada and California.

One factor that appears to halt their range expansion is their sensitivity to cold. Climate change triggering areas further north being warmer may partially mitigate this and contribute to continued northward range expansion, though.

A peculiar Inca Dove behavior called “pyramid roosting” is something that they have apparently evolved to deal with cold. There are reports of up to as many as a dozen Inca Doves roosting in (usually) spots of sunshine in groups of two to three rows of birds on top of one another, and this seems to be to conserve warmth by huddling together and all fluffing out their feathers.

When you first see an Inca Dove, you might think you’re seeing a baby Mourning Dove, they’re that small. However, on second look, you’ll note some differences.

The Inca Dove’s entire body has a fish-scale or scalloped appearance due to dark the edges of their feathers, which is different from the Mourning Dove. Like the Mourning Dove, they have long tails, but instead of being pointed like the Mourning Dove’s, an Inca Dove’s tail is square tipped and has white on the outer edges of the tail feathers. In flight, Inca Doves show a bright rufous red color on their wings. This is because their primaries (the long outer, or flight, feathers on their wings) are this color on both top and bottom. Adult males have a slightly blueish grey wash to the top of their head and face plus a light pinkish salmony tinge on their breast. Their irises are reddish and the eyes are surrounded by a thin blue eye-ring. In adult females, these features are either absent or much duller. Juveniles of both sexes are duller yet, and their entire bodies appears browner than those of their parents. In addition, their irises are yellow, and the scaling/scalloped effect on their feathers is considerably less notable.

Inca Doves have adapted admirably to the desert as well. They can go for as long as five days without water and will fly straight and direct for up to ten miles to water holes. Early white travelers in West Texas fast learned this and were more than glad to follow them to those life giving oases.

Ironically, as following them to a desert water hole certainly must have been a hopeful event, the Inca Dove’s call is most often rendered in English as ‘No Hope’. It has also been compared to the sound of someone blowing over the top of an empty bottle.

So, keep your eyes open for these diminutive doves as you’re out and about. Their explosive take off often from seemingly right under your feet can be a bit startling and where there’s one or two, there are often more. Enjoy their bright rufous wings flashing as they fly off and be thankful for having encountered a fellow inhabitant of our shared planet.

Mark Pendleton is the field trip coordinator for the Mesilla Valley Audubon Society, which supplies these Bird of the Month features. The MVAS sponsors monthly fieldtrips and other nature/conservation related activities in Doña Ana, Sierra, and Otero Counties. To find out more, visit the MVAS web site at new-mexico-birds.com.