The white-winged dove is a fairly large dove with a long bill. Its name derives from a broad white band that can be seen along the edge of the wing when it is folded and across the wing when it is opened. The reddish eye is surrounded by bright blue skin, and there is a dark streak on the cheek below the eye.
The white-winged dove is native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. Its diet consists of seeds, berries, and other fruit.
White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica) are semi-tropical doves whose native range extends from the southwestern U.S. through Mexico and Central America, into parts of western South America, and to some Caribbean islands. They are also residents in Florida, where they were introduced. The majority of White-winged Doves are seasonally migratory. They overwinter in Mexico and Central America and come to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico in April to breed, departing again in September. Some will overwinter in their breeding range, especially in residential areas where food remains available. In the southern parts of their range, they are year-round residents. There are twelve subspecies of White-winged Doves. Western or Desert White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica mearnsii) and Eastern White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica asiatica) are the most numerous and widely distributed subspecies.
(Ehrlich 1988, George et al. 1994, Rappole 2000, Stiles and Skutch 1989)
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: BREEDING: southeastern California and southwestern U.S. south to Honduras, locally to western Panama; Bahamas and Greater Antilles; islands of western Caribbean; western South America from southwestern Ecuador to northern Chile. In the U.S., range has expanded northward in recent decades. NON-BREEDING: generally in breeding range, but northern birds mostly migratory. Introduced in southern Florida.
White-winged Doves are large, pigeon-like doves. Adult birds are brownish-gray above and gray below, with distinct white wing markings found in no other New World dove. When perched with wings folded, the white wing bars form a narrow (1cm wide) margin along the leading and lower edges of the wings. In flight, they appear as brilliant white crescents framing the body on the upper surface of each wing. Both male and female adults also have a ring of blue, featherless skin around each eye, red irises, a patch of black feathers or “ear spot” beneath and behind the eye, and red or pinkish-red legs and feet. Males and females are difficult to differentiate in the field, although males tend to be slightly larger and a bit more colorful than females, with a hint of purple on the neck and head, and a bolder black ear spot. Juveniles are more gray-brown than adults. They have no blue eye ring, their irises are black, and their legs and feet are pink or brownish-pink.
White-winged Doves are often compared to Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura), but Mourning Doves are slightly smaller, with smaller heads and bills. Additionally, Mourning Doves’ tails are pointed instead of squared, and they lack the distinct bright wing patches or white tail tips of White-winged Doves.
(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, Kaufman 2000, Oberholser 1974)
Average mass: 170 g.
Average length: 30 cm.
Average wingspan: 50 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average mass: 140 g.
Length: 29 cm
Weight: 153 grams
Habitat and Ecology
White-winged Doves inhabit brushlands and woodlands or desert scrub and cacti, as well as agricultural fields and residential areas throughout their range. Eastern migratory populations breed in the semi-tropical, thorny woodlands in the states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Veracruz in Mexico and along the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, USA. They also nest extensively in citrus orchards, accounting in some years for 50-90% of all nesting activity. In Texas, nesting colonies and individuals also rely on residential shade and ornamental trees as nest sites from which they utilize bird feeders and bird baths in town and take feeding forays into nearby agricultural fields. Western White-winged Doves breed in regions of desert scrub and cacti or riparian woodlands throughout Sonora and Baja California in Mexico, and in southeastern Nevada and California, southern Arizona, and western New Mexico, USA. They also utilize citrus groves and residential areas as nesting sites and agricultural fields for feeding grounds. When they migrate south for winter, both populations join resident White-winged Doves in semi-arid regions of thornscrub, deciduous dry forest, cacti forest, savannah, and agricultural and riparian areas with scattered trees.
(George et al. 1994, Small 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989)
Habitat Regions: tropical
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; scrub forest
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural ; riparian
Comments: Generally arid regions with scrubby thickets or riverine forest, open cultivated lands with scattered trees, and mangroves (Tropical and Subtropical zones) (AOU 1983); mature citrus groves. Nests in tree, shrub, cactus, or vine.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Resident throughout most of range, but northern breeding populations are migratory. Arrives in northern breeding areas March-April, departs around mid-September (Terres 1980). Breeders from Texas and eastern Tamaulipas winter in southwestern Mexico and Central America (Swanson and Rappole 1992).
White-winged Doves feed on a variety of seeds, grain, and fruit that vary depending on their range and seasonal availability. They consume seeds and fruits of wild trees, grasses, and herbaceous plants, as well as those of ornamental cultivars. Domestic grain crops including sunflower, barley, sesame, sorghum, wheat, corn, and safflower are also an important food source in many parts of White-winged Dove’s range. To supplement their seed-based diet, White-winged Doves will also ingest shells of small snails and other gastropods, or bits of bone extracted from raptor pellets or mammal feces. The bones and shell are an important source of calcium for the doves, necessary for eggshell and crop milk production.
Western White-winged Doves’ dietary preferences lead them to migrate into the Sonoran Desert to breed during the hottest and driest time of the year. Their paradoxical arrival at such a harsh season is tied to the flowering and fruiting of columnar cacti such as the saguaro (Carnegia gigantea). Flower pollen and nectar, and subsequent fruits and seeds, provide virtually all the needed food and moisture required by desert White-winged Doves from May to mid-July. This food supply is consistently dependable, for even in drought years, columnar cacti flower abundantly in the Sonoran Desert. Wolf and Martinez del Rio performed isotopic analysis of Western White-winged Dove tissues during saguaro flowering and fruiting season and found that most of the carbon and water in the birds’ bodies was derived from saguaros. This research demonstrates a strong ecological association between saguaros and desert White-winged Doves and illustrates why western populations’ original range was closely tied to that of the saguaro cactus. With the arrival of agriculture in southwestern North America, Western White-winged Doves’ range has expanded into areas beyond the saguaro’s distribution in response to newly available food resources.
(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, George et al. 1994, Haughey 1986, Waggerman 1977, Wolf and Martinez del Rio 2000)
Plant Foods: leaves; seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit; nectar; pollen
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore , Granivore , Nectarivore )
Comments: Feeds on wild seeds, grains and fruits. Forages mainly on ground, sometimes in trees. In Jamaica, eats seeds, cactus fruits, and orange seeds (Lack 1976).
Western White-winged Doves are important pollinators of the saguaro cactus. This behavior serves them well since they also feed on saguaro fruits and seeds. Although they are primary seed consumers, White-winged Doves also serve as dispersers of saguaro seeds. Some of the seeds the doves regurgitate and feed to their young fall to the ground, concentrating seeds beneath the nest. Since saguaro seedlings require shade to become successfully established, the doves may be inadvertently placing saguaro seeds in some of the most viable spots for development beneath their nest trees.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds; pollinates
White-winged Doves are hunted by a variety of predators. Raptors take young and adults during nesting season, but take of eggs and nestlings by grackles, jays, and crows is a more significant source of White-winged Dove predation. Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) and Mexican Crows (Corvis imparatus) are the highest cause of White-winged Dove mortality in eastern breeding areas where they take eggs and nestlings to feed to their own broods. Mammals and reptiles will also take young and eggs from nests, but they are principle predators on the ground. When aware of predators, nesting doves rarely perform distraction displays. More often, they readily flee from their nests in explosive flight that can result in eggs or chicks being ejected from the nest. Terrestrial predators consume these young. Finally, ants will sometimes swarm and eat hatching or newly-emerged chicks.
(Blankinship 1966 and 1970, Cottam and Trefethen 1968, Dunks 1969, Ehrlich 1988)
- hawks (Accipitridae)
- owls (Strigiformes)
- grackles (Quiscalus)
- crows (Corvus)
- bobcats (Lynx rufus)
- ringtails (Bassariscus astutus)
- raccoons (Procyon lotor)
- Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana)
- domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
- coyotes (Canis latrans)
- Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus)
- gopher snakes (Pituophis)
- rattlesnakes (Crotalus)
- kingsnakes (Lampropeltis)
- rat snakes (Elaphe)
- races (Coluber)
- whip snakes (Dryophiops)
- ants (Formicidae)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Gregarious, especially after nesting season. Birds gather in large flocks to feed. Pollinates and disperses seeds of saguaro cactus in Southwest (Olin et al. 1989). Nesting density up to at least 280 pairs/ha under favorable circumstances (see Swanson and Rappole 1992).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
White-winged doves are migratory and arrive at their breeding grounds in late-April. Males seek out nesting grounds in woody habitat and are territorial, sparring with wing-slaps when necessary. They attract a mate with cooing and visual displays. After copulation, the female will choose a nest site within the male's territory and construct a nest out of grasses, twigs, and weed stems. The female typically lays two eggs, and then both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs. Incubation lasts about 14 days, and the chicks leave the nest within 13-16 days of hatching. The male will continue to feed the young near the nest until they are four weeks old, but the female may start a new clutch immediately. At the end of the nesting season, in August, the birds aggregate in large feeding flocks, moving between nightly roost sites and daily foraging grounds. Migration south begins in mid- to late-September.
Status: wild: 261 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Once males have established nesting territories, they attract a mate with cooing and visual displays and aggressively defend the territory from other males, sparring with wing-slaps if necessary. If an interested female approaches, males perform precopulation behaviors such as additional cooing, wing and tail fanning, bowing, and mutual preening.
Mating System: monogamous
White-winged Doves arrive in their northern breeding grounds in late April. Western White-winged Doves will nest as isolated pairs in the southwest deserts, whereas Eastern White-winged Doves commonly nest in large colonies. Males seek out and defend nesting territories in woody habitat within flying distance of food and water. Banding of desert-nesting birds has shown that they will regularly fly up to 8 km from the nest site to a water source. Urban White-winged Doves nesting in San Antonio, Texas have been observed taking daily feeding forays to farms 5-20 km from their nest sites.
After copulation, the female chooses a nest site within the male’s territory, generally at forking tree branches or even atop abandoned nests of other birds. Over 2-5 days, she builds a relatively flimsy nest with grasses, twigs, weed stems and other nesting materials brought to her by her mate. Females usually lay two cream to white, unmarked eggs, and incubation begins before the second egg is laid. Both parents incubate the eggs in regular shifts; males are generally on the nest from mid-morning until mid-afternoon, and females from mid-afternoon through mid-morning.
Incubation lasts about 14 days, and the older chick hatches about a day earlier than its sibling. For the first four days of life, White-winged Dove parents feed their chicks “crop milk”, a protein- and fat-rich secretion of the esophageal lining that is chemically similar to mammalian milk. This diet is then supplemented with regurgitated seeds, and by the second week, the chicks’ diet is mostly composed of seeds. The chicks grow quickly and can leave the nest within 13-16 days of hatching. The male continues to feed the young near the nest until they are about four weeks old, while the female may start a new clutch as early as three days following the fledging, or loss, of the first clutch. Research in Texas has shown that on average, Eastern White-winged Doves successfully fledge about 2.2 chicks in a breeding season. By early August, nesting is over, and the adults and young doves aggregate in large feeding flocks where food is available. They move between nightly roost sites and daily foraging grounds until mid to late September, when they begin to migrate south.
(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, Ehrlich 1988, George et al. 1994, Goodwin 1977)
Breeding season: spring, through August
Average eggs per season: 2.2.
Average time to hatching: 14 days.
Average fledging age: 14.5 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Average time to hatching: 13 days.
Average eggs per season: 2.
Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care
Usually 2, sometimes 1 or 3-4, eggs are incubated for about 13-14 days. Nestlings are altricial. Young are tended by both adults. May raise a second brood. Often nests in loose colonies; or singly.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Zenaida asiatica
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Zenaida asiatica
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 10
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Least Concern (LC)
- Least Concern (LC)
- Least Concern (LC)
- Not Recognized (NR)
- Not Recognized (NR)
- Not Recognized (NR)
- Not Recognized (NR)