Bar-shouldered dove (Geopelia humeralis)

Also known as: kookawook, mangrove dove, pandanus pigeon, scrub dove
GenusGeopelia (1)
SizeLength: 26 cm (2)
Male weight: 118 - 149 g (3)
Female weight: 108 - 137 g (3)
Top facts

The bar-shouldered dove is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

An elegant, attractive species (2) (4), the bar-shouldered dove (Geopelia humeralis) is a medium-sized, long-tailed dove from Australia and New Guinea (5). Its scientific name, Geopelia, is highly appropriate for this ground-dwelling bird, as geo means ‘ground’ and peleia means ‘dove’ (6).

Delicate blue-grey feathers cover the head, upper breast and sides of the neck of the adult bar-shouldered dove (4) (5), while the hind-neck is a coppery or reddish-brown colour with dark barring (4) (5) (7). The back, wing-coverts, rump and uppertail-coverts are silky brown (2) (4), and narrow bands on the edges of the feathers of the upperparts give the bird a scaled appearance (4). Two feathers in the centre of the tail are dark grey, with the remainder being reddish-brown at the base, increasing in colour intensity towards the tips, which are mostly white (4). The underparts of the bar-shouldered dove are pale (5) and unbarred (7), being described as a light red or pale wine colour. The belly of this species is white (2) (4).

A blue-grey eye-ring surrounds the yellowish to green eyes of the bar-shouldered dove (2) (4) (5), and the bill is also greyish-blue (2) (4). The bar-shouldered dove’s legs and feet are a pinkish-red (2) (4).

The colouration of the female bar-shouldered dove is similar to that of the larger male (4). However, the female tends to be greyer on the breast and is generally duller overall (2). The juvenile bar-shouldered dove is also much duller than the adult male, and in addition it lacks the coppery patch and barring on the hind-neck (5). There is some colour variation between the three subspecies of bar-shouldered dove, with the northern Australian subspecies generally being lighter in colour, and the New Guinea subspecies being darker (2) (5).

The bar-shouldered dove tends to produce a rather loud ‘coo-coo’ which is uttered at long intervals, although during the breeding season this interval is shorter and the notes take on a softer tone (4).

The bar-shouldered dove is found in Australia and New Guinea (5) (7) (8) (9) (10), as well as the Montebello Islands (11) and islands in the Torres Strait (9).

In Australia, the bar-shouldered dove is abundant in the northern and eastern parts of the country (2) (4) (5) (9) (10), including central and eastern New South Wales, northern parts of the Northern Territory, and north-western Western Australia (9). It is also found throughout much of Queensland, although it is absent from the south-western regions of the State (9), and it is thought to be expanding its range southwards on the east coast (10). The bar-shouldered dove has also been recorded in Indonesia (8). 

Found in thickets (4), mangrove forests (2) (4) (5) (9) (10) or in humid, grassy woodland (5) (10), the bar-shouldered dove is never far from water (2) (5) (10). It is known to inhabit swampy ground and the banks of running streams (4) (9), and has even been reported to have established populations on forested sand cays (12). The bar-shouldered dove also occurs in urban areas (5) (9), including parks and gardens (10).

A gregarious bird, the bar-shouldered dove is often seen in mangroves in flocks comprising several hundred individuals (4), and often follows its conspecifics around closely (2).

As a terrestrial forager (13), the bar-shouldered dove spends much of its time on the ground (2) (4), searching for the seeds of various grasses (2) (4) (5) (11) (14), herbs (5) and leguminous plants (4), as well as grain (14). This species tends to feed within short grass close to cover (5), but it is also known to venture into thickets where it forages for berries and other fruit (4) (14). Although its diet is primarily vegetarian, the bar-shouldered dove has been recorded eating the occasional insect (2). This species needs to drink throughout the day (5), and so is rarely found far from water (2) (5) (10).

There is little information available on reproduction in the bar-shouldered dove, but it is thought to breed in August (4). The nest is a thin platform made of slender twigs and roots placed loosely on a branch or within the fork of a tree, and it is usually well hidden and sheltered from the elements (4) (5). A typical bar-shouldered dove clutch consists of one or two delicate, fleshy-white eggs (2) (4), which are incubated by both the male and female (5) for a period of about 22 days (2). The chicks are fed on regurgitated crop milk by both adult birds (5), and leave the nest approximately 10 to 12 days after hatching (2).

The bar-shouldered dove has an extremely large range, and in the absence of any evidence of population declines or substantial threats, this species is not considered to be at risk of extinction (8). However, the bar-shouldered dove is known to be affected by fire (15), and is significantly more abundant in unburnt areas of habitat (16).

While there are currently no known conservation measures in place specifically targeting the bar-shouldered dove, this species is known to have benefitted from land clearance for agriculture, and is a common species in urban areas of northern Australia (5).

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  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
  2. Vriends, M.M. (1994) Doves: Everything About Purchase, Housing, Care, Nutrition, Breeding, and Diseases: With a Special Chapter on Understanding Doves. Barron’s Educational Series, New York.
  3. Dunning Jr, J.B. (2008) CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses. Second Edition. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.
  4. Gould, J. (1865) Handbook to the Birds of Australia. John Gould, London.
  5. Birds in Backyards - Bar-shouldered dove (November, 2012)
  6. Jobling, J.A. (2009) Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  7. Gibbs, D. (2010) Pigeons and Doves: A Guide to the Pigeons and Doves of the World. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  8. BirdLife International - Bar-shouldered dove (November, 2012)   
  9. Sibley, C.G. and Monroe Jr, B. (1991) Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. Yale University Press, Connecticut.
  10. Thomas, R., Thomas, S., Andrew, D. and McBride, A. (2011) The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  11. Burbidge, A.A. and Morris, K.D. (2002) Introduced mammal eradications for nature conservation on Western Australian islands: a review. In: Veitch, C.R. and Clout, M.N. (Eds.) Turning the Tide: The Eradication of Invasive Species. Proceedings of the International Conference on Eradication of Island Invasives. IUCN Species Survival Commission, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
  12. Gillespie, R.G. and Clague. D.A. (2009) Encyclopedia of Islands. University of California Press, Berkeley, California.
  13. Franklin, D.C., Woinarski, J.C.Z. and Noske, R.A. (2000) Geographical patterning of species richness among granivorous birds in Australia. Journal of Biogeography, 27: 829-842.
  14. Barker, R.D. and Vestjens, W.J.M. (1989) The Food of Australian Birds: Non-passerines. Volume 1. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  15. Russell-Smith, J., Whitehead, P.J. and Cooke, P. (2009) Culture, Ecology and Economy of Fire Management in North Australian Savannas: Rekindling the Wurrk Tradition. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  16. Woinarski, J.C.Z., Risler, J. and Kean, L. (2004) Response of vegetation and vertebrate fauna to 23 years of fire exclusion in a tropical Eucalyptus open forest, Northern Territory, Australia. Austral Ecology, 29: 156-176.