Galapagos dove (Zenaida galapagoensis)

Galapagos dove calling
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Galapagos dove fact file

Galapagos dove description

GenusZenaida (1)

An attractive bird, the Galapagos dove has dark reddish-brown upperparts, a pinkish neck and breast, a buffy-coloured belly, and brown wings, streaked with white and black (2) (3). The primary flight feathers are black, fringed with white borders, and the underwing is a dark bluish-grey. The tail is dark brown, with grey edges, a black bar near the end, and a grey bar at the tip (2). The dove’s legs and feet are bright red (2) (3). The head is particularly striking, with a long, black beak and dark eye, contrasting with the bright blue eye ring, and the creamy white stripe, bordered with thin black stripes, behind and below the eye (2). Each side of the neck bears a pinkish- or greenish-bronze iridescent patch. The female Galapagos dove is slightly duller in colour than the male, with a more restricted iridescent patch on the neck, and the juvenile also has duller plumage than the adult (2) (3).

Somewhat unusually for a Galapagos species, populations of Galapagos doves on different islands are generally quite similar in appearance, and do not appear to have low genetic diversity, suggesting high rates of gene flow between islands. However, some morphological differences do exist, particularly in body size (4). Two subspecies are recognised, with Zenaida galapagoensis exsul being slightly larger and darker in colour than its more southern counterpart, Zenaida galapagoensis galapagoensis (2) (3) (5).

Also known as
Galápagos dove.
Length: 18 - 23 cm (2)
88 g (2)

Galapagos dove biology

During the wet season, the Galapagos dove feeds largely on caterpillars and on flowers of the cactus Opuntia helleri (2) (5) (7). At other times, much foraging takes place on the ground, with the doves taking seeds of the bush Croton scouleri, often using the beak to dig up and uncover seeds. Other small seeds and fruits may be eaten, as well as cactus pulp, and the fly larvae and pupae that may be found inside cactus trunks and pads (2) (7). Feeding habits may differ between islands, with only some Galapagos doves reported to perch on Opuntia cacti and feed on the flowers, possibly due to differences in the rigidity of the cactus spines between islands (7).

The Galapagos dove typically breeds between January and November, though breeding season may vary between islands (2) (5), and on Genovesa does not start until early February, after the rains (7). The nest itself is either placed on the ground, in rock cavities, or at around 75 centimetres above the ground, in the old nest of a mockingbird (2) (5) (7). Ground nests usually suffer higher predation than those above the ground (2) (7). Two eggs are normally laid, and hatch after an incubation period of 13 days. Fledging occurs at between 13 and 17 days, and the breeding pair may go on to nest again just 6 to 10 days later, sometimes raising up to three broods in one season (2) (7).


Galapagos dove range

As its name suggests, the Galapagos dove is endemic to the Galapagos Islands, in the eastern Pacific. Z. g. galapagoensis occurs on all the major islands of the Galapagos, while Z. g. exsul is known only from the distant northern islands of Darwin (Culpepper) and Wolf (Wenman) (2) (5). It is likely that birds in the southern islands move quite freely between different islands (2) (4) (6).


Galapagos dove habitat

The Galapagos dove inhabits dry, rocky, lowland areas with scattered trees, bushes and Opuntia cacti (2) (5).


Galapagos dove status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Galapagos dove threats

The Galapagos dove is not currently considered globally threatened, and appears to have fairly secure populations away from settled areas and on islands free of predators (2) (5). However, the species may be declining on inhabited islands (4) (8). As is often the case with island species, the Galapagos dove was once unafraid of humans, even being recorded as settling on the shoulders and heads of visiting sailors. This lack of fear made it easy for early settlers to approach the dove and kill it for food. However, the Galapagos dove is now more wary around humans, although hunting pressure has considerably decreased (2) (3) (5).

The main threats to the species today include predation by introduced predators such as cats, as well as urban development, and diseases brought by the introduced domestic pigeon (4) (5) (8) (9). Newly-arrived insect-borne diseases may also be an increasing threat, as are parasitic insects themselves (1). In addition, the Galapagos Islands face a range of threats from unplanned and inadequately controlled tourism, human population growth, and urbanisation, resulting in habitat degradation, pollution, and invasion by non-native species (10). All of these may threaten the Galapagos dove.


Galapagos dove conservation

No specific conservation measures are known to be in place for the Galapagos dove. Measures to prevent exotic avian diseases reaching the Galapagos have been suggested, as well as monitoring programmes to allow early detection of outbreaks, and contingency plans to enable appropriate responses (8). Although designated as a National Park and a World Heritage Site (10), the problems of increasing tourism and human population growth on the Galapagos Islands may need to be addressed if its unique range of species, including the Galapagos dove, are to receive adequate protection.

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about conservation in the Galapagos Islands, see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:



Authenticated (16/12/09) by Dr H. Glyn Young, Conservation Biologist, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.


A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Gene flow
The exchange of genes between populations. Low gene flow is often considered detrimental as it does not give the high levels of genetic variability which may help a population to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Nevertheless, a lack of gene flow between two populations can lead to genetic differences between them and, ultimately, the potential for speciation.
The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Referring to the visible or measurable characteristics of an organism.
An organism that derives its food from, and lives in or on, another living organism at the host’s expense.
Primary flight feathers
In birds, the main flight feathers projecting along the outer edge of the wing.
Stage in an insect’s development when huge changes occur, which reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2009)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Jackson, M.H. (1993) Galápagos: A Natural History. University of Calgary Press, Calgary.
  4. Santiago-Alarcon, D., Tanksley, S.M. and Parker, P.G. (2006) Morphological variation and genetic structure of Galapagos dove (Zenaida galapagoensis) populations: issues in conservation for the Galapagos bird fauna. Wilson Journal of Ornithology, 118(2): 194 - 207.
  5. BirdLife International (February, 2009)
  6. Kricher, J. (2006) Galápagos: A Natural History. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  7. Grant, P.R. and Grant, K.T. (1979) Breeding and feeding ecology of the Galápagos dove. Condor, 81(4): 397 - 403.
  8. Wikelski, M., Foufopoulos, J., Vargas, H. and Snell, H. (2004) Galápagos birds and diseases: invasive pathogens as threats for island species. Ecology and Society, 9(1): 5.
  9. Harmon, W.M., Clark, W.A., Hawbecker, A.C. and Stafford, M. (1987) Trichomonas gallinae in Columbiform birds from the Galapagos Islands. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 23(3): 492 - 494.
  10. Padilla, L.R, Santiago-Alarcon, D., Merkel, J., Miller, E., and Parker, P.G. (2004) Survey for Haemoproteus spp., Trichomonas gallinae, Chlamydophila psittaci, and Salmonella spp. in Galapagos islands Columbiformes. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 35(1): 60-64.
  11. UNEP-WCMC: Galápagos Islands National Park and Marine Reserve, Ecuador (February, 2009)

Image credit

Galapagos dove calling  
Galapagos dove calling

© Mark Walport

Mark Walport


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