Are you interested in learning more about doves? You might see these birds in urban and rural environments so often that you barely notice them. However, as our compilation of dove facts explores, they are remarkable birds in their own right.
For example, doves are masters of navigation; they can find their way home after traveling long distances. Additionally, doves have a unique drinking habit. Unlike most birds, they don't need to tilt their heads back to swallow water. They can suck it up directly, like humans drinking through a straw, a crucial adaptation in arid regions.
As we explore this list of facts, we uncover a more comprehensive understanding of this beautiful bird's life.
Related: Want to know more about other excellent avian navigators? Then check out these facts about pigeons - pigeons belong to the same family with some differences we expand on below.
There are over 300 distinct species of doves all over the world. These species vary in appearance and behavior, contributing to the Columbidae family's diverse range of features.
For example, turtle doves feature soft brown plumage with subtle stripes, symbolizing love and peace. You'll recognize them often depicted as peace doves holding an olive branch in its beak.
Mourning doves are a common bird in North America, which people recognize by their light gray-brown body and soft pink chest. This bird's melancholy song is recognizable to many.
Meanwhile, the rock pigeon, or feral pigeon, is also common in urban areas, sometimes eating food on bird feeders. Rain doves are another famous bird.
Scientifically, doves and pigeons fall under the same family (Columbidae), which comprises over 340 unique species. People refer to them by different names; the smaller birds are doves and have a more delicate appearance, and the bigger ones are pigeons.
However, this naming convention is primarily an English-speaking practice and is not a definitive rule. For instance, rock pigeons are smaller than mourning doves but are still called pigeons.
Cultural and regional influences can also affect the naming of these birds. Consider the white-winged dove, referred to as either a dove or a pigeon.
One fascinating dove fact is that doves produce soft and melodic cooing sounds that are audible through trees2. This unique call is their primary communication; different dove species have distinct accents and cooing patterns.
For example, the rock dove has a loud and forceful call, while the mourning dove makes a somber call, hence the name. Identifying doves by their call is a crucial skill for bird enthusiasts, like learning a new language.
The cooing of doves is a result of their anatomy, specifically a voice box called a 'syrinx' in their throat. This organ allows doves to produce a wide range of notes. Interestingly, a dove's mood and situation also influence its song. For example, a dove may coo more frequently during mating, hoping to attract potential mates.
Additionally, male doves tend to be the loudest, cooing to court female doves. Sometimes, a pigeon beats its wings loudly to warn nearby birds of predators.
Related read: See what humans say about doves in our compilation of dove quotes.
Though not all doves migrate, these graceful birds are expert navigators who always know the way home after traveling vast distances. Interestingly, this skill is not innate; young doves must learn it by following older, more experienced flock mates. They learn to map their surroundings and identify critical landmarks during each journey.
Scientists have extensively researched these birds to uncover the science behind their homing ability. One theory suggests that doves have a magnetic compass in their beaks, which enables them to sense the Earth's magnetic fields and use it as a dove GPS.
Moreover, birds, particularly doves, use various tools to navigate during long trips. Besides an innate compass, they read the position of the sun. Some researchers also suggest that they use their sense of smell.
The journey of a baby dove, known as a squab, from birth to adulthood happens rapidly. Squabs are born blind and featherless, relying on their parents for warmth and food. Despite their fragility, squabs are resilient thanks to their diet of 'crop milk.' This nutrient-rich milk helps squabs transform from newborns into fully-fledged flyers packed with protein and fat1 in just two weeks.
Both male and female dogs produce 'milk' in their crop, which they regurgitate onto their offspring's mouth. As a result, the squabs quickly grow feathers. This rapid development minimizes the time the squabs are exposed to predators. Additionally, it enables doves to raise several families in a single breeding season.
Before moving on to the rest of the article, did you know that Eurasian collared doves are invasive in the US and Western Canada? (As its name indicates, the Eurasian collared dove is native to Europe and Asia.)
Another fact about doves is that they are monogamous animals, forming lifelong relationships with their mates. Particularly mourning doves mate for life and even mourn their partner's death (hence the name). They also almost always lay two eggs at a time.
The courtship of doves involves rituals such as mutual grooming and shared meals to strengthen the bond between the pair. Once established, this bond is powerful and can withstand natural adversities.
In addition to their lifelong companionships, doves share responsibilities, particularly caring for their young. For instance, male and female doves build nests and share child-rearing duties, like feeding.
Homing pigeons have a unique talent for pigeon racing. This sport relies on the pigeon's ability to fly straight home from long distances; their home is the finish line. The competitors are released from a specific location and then race against each other to return to their nests. Besides their navigational ability, homing pigeons can cover over a thousand miles.
Over time, pigeon racing has gained a significant following worldwide. Many countries, including Belgium and Taiwan, host pigeon races that draw much attention. These races operate under the supervision of official organizations such as the Royal Pigeon Racing Association in the UK and the American Racing Pigeon Union in the US.
The passenger pigeon was once an abundant species in North America that helped maintain the biosphere balance. Estimates suggest that around three to five billion passenger pigeons existed at one point.
They formed massive flocks that could blot out the sun over a mile-wide area, stretching for 300 miles. Moreover, they dispersed seeds and nurtured the forests where they lived. However, their numbers meant they were easy targets for hunters.
In the 19th century, the demand for low-cost protein to feed the slaves and the poor led to the pigeon population's commercial exploitation. Combined with the rapid destruction of their natural habitats, the passenger pigeon was doomed. While the government passed legislation to protect them, they needed more time to enforce it appropriately.
The last known passenger pigeon was a female named Martha, who died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.
Birds typically tuck their heads under their wings. However, unlike other types of birds, the mourning dove cradles its head between its shoulders and hugs its body, a distinctive posture often misunderstood.
At first glance, one might perceive the mourning dove's distinctive body position as a sign of discomfort or illness. However, it helps keep the bird warm and protected while resting.
Additionally, the mourning dove sleeps with one eye partially open, unlike other birds, which shut their eyes entirely. The mourning dove maintains alertness and vigilance by sleeping with one eye open, allowing the bird to flee once it detects danger.
Despite some fluctuations, the dove population has remained relatively stable. For example, the rock doves and the mourning doves have been classified as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Doves can live in urban to rural landscapes, forests to deserts, and grasslands.
Moreover, being prolific breeders contributes to their robust numbers. For example, female mourning doves care for three to six broods during the breeding seasons.
However, not all dove species are faring well3. Consider the Socorro Dove native to Socorro Island in Mexico. Due to habitat loss caused by overgrazing sheep, their population is dwindling, and they are currently classified as "Critically Endangered." Conservation efforts, such as captive breeding programs and reintroduction plans, offer hope for their survival.
We hope that this list of wonderful dove facts allowed you to gain an appreciation for these gentle birds!
Gillespie, M. J., Stanley, D., Chen, H., Donald, J. A., Nicholas, K. R., Moore, R. J., & Crowley, T. M. (2011). Functional Similarities between Pigeon 'Milk' and Mammalian Milk: Induction of Immune Gene Expression and Modification of the Microbiota. PLoS ONE, 6(10), e26563.
Slabbekoorn, H., & ten Cate, C. (1999). Collared dove responses to playback: Slaves to the rhythm. Ethology, 105(5), 377-391.
BirdLife International. (2018). Zenaida graysoni. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22690866A132605004.