Grenada dove (Leptotila wellsi)

GenusLeptotilia (1)
SizeLength: 31cm (2)

The Grenada dove is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The Grenada dove (Leptotila wellsi) is only found on the island of Grenada in the West Indies, and was announced as the country’s national bird in 1991 (3). The Grenada dove is a stout, bicoloured bird with a distinctive white breast and forehead, which contrasts with the olive-brown upperparts and dark wings. When in flight, the Grenada dove’s cinnamon-coloured underwing and white-tipped tail can be seen (2) (4). The legs and feet of this species are pinkish-red (2) and its beak is black (5).

The call of the Grenada dove is a single descending ‘hooo’ which is repeated every seven to eight seconds (2) (6), often continuously during the morning, and then resumed a few hours before sunset. It is a loud, mournful-sounding note which can be heard up to 100 metres away (6).

The Grenada dove is endemic to the Caribbean island of Grenada, in the Lesser Antilles. The species has two main strongholds on the island, one in the southwest, in the Mt. Hartman Estate National Park, and one on the west coast, on the Perseverance and adjacent Woodford Estates (2).

The Grenada dove inhabits dry, coastal woodland in the southwest of Grenada, where there is a dense canopy of thorny trees and shrubs around three to six metres high, usually with bare ground underneath. On the west coast, where there is more rainfall, the Grenada dove’s habitat is slightly less dry, with some deciduous and evergreen trees (2).

The Grenada dove is thought to feed primarily on seeds, obtained by foraging on the ground. However, it has also been reported to consume papaya fruit (7). This species is unusual in spending a considerable amount of time walking on the ground, perhaps because it evolved without ground predators (4).

Breeding amongst Grenada doves in the southwest of the island occurs predominantly in the rainy season, although on the west coast, where it is generally less dry, the breeding period is extended (2). The nests of this species have been recorded in trees such as palms, where the eggs are laid and the young are raised (8). The Grenada dove lays two eggs in captivity (5).

The Grenada dove is a territorial bird. When challenged by a competitor, it has been known to fly down to ground level and fight, jumping and striking the opponent with its wings (8).

The Grenada dove currently faces a high risk of extinction in the wild, with as few as 100 mature, wild, individuals estimated to remain (2).

The biggest threat to the Grenada dove is habitat loss and fragmentation, largely due to the development of housing, luxury hotels and roads on the island (2). An airport built in the 1980s destroyed around ten percent of this species’ habitat, and a quarry built at the same time destroyed even more of the dry forests which the Grenada Dove inhabits (5). Overgrazing and agriculture have also severely damaged a large proportion of the island’s vegetation (5) (8).

Hurricane Ivan hit Grenada in September 2004, causing further habitat loss and having a disastrous impact on the Grenada dove’s population. The structure of the dry forest scrubland was severely damaged, and allowed the invasion of alien vines which made the habitat even less suitable for the Grenada dove. Researchers found that after the hurricane, the Grenada dove population on the west coast declined from 36 to between 3 and 12 calling males (2).

Predators such as the common opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), rats and feral cats are another major cause of the declining Grenada dove population (2) (8). Cats are a particular threat, as they are capable of climbing slanting branches and trunks to catch the birds. It has been argued that the damage to trees caused by Hurricane Ivan could have made the Grenada dove more vulnerable to predators (2).

Since being declared the national bird of Grenada in 1991, the Grenada dove has increasingly become a focus of local attention, involving environmental education in schools and ecotourism (2). The campaign is further promoted by local artists and musicians, who have made the Grenada dove the subject of songs, colourful paintings and billboards with the intention of encouraging local participation in the protection of the dove (3). The Grenada dove also features on Grenadian stamps, reinforcing the dove’s significance as a national symbol (2).

Conservation measures for the Grenada dove have been focused on protecting the two strongholds on Grenada which this species inhabits. In 1996 a section of the Mt. Hartman Estate was made a National Park, and the Perseverance Estate became a protected area. In 1998 a recovery plan for the species was drawn up, and a four-year Dry Forest Biodiversity Conservation Project took place between 2001 and 2006. An updated ten-year recovery plan was drafted in 2008 to increase the wild population and restore the Grenada dove’s habitat (2).

A predator control programme has also been designed to protect the Grenada dove, and is monitored by the government of Grenada. The government has also announced that another national park will be made on the island for this species (2).

In order to save the extremely rare Grenada dove from extinction, more action must be taken to minimise further habitat loss, essentially by protecting the Mt. Hartman and Perseverance reserves. It would also be beneficial to restore habitat at other sites on the island, to help establish new subpopulations of the Grenada dove (2).

Learn more about the Grenada dove:

Find out more about the conservation of the Grenada dove:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2012)
  2. BirdLife International (January, 2012)
  3. Rosenburg, J. and Korsmo, F.L. (2001) Local participation, international politics, and the environment: the World Bank and the Grenada dove. Journal of Environmental Management62: 283-300.
  4. Government of Grenada: Grenada dove - National bird of Grenada (January, 2012)
  5. Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  6. Blockstein, D.E. and Hardy, J. W. (1989) The Grenada dove (Leptotila wellsi) is a distinct species. The Auk, 106: 339-340.
  7. Twyman, W.D. (2008) Grenada dove ecology in a post-hurricane environment. M.S. Thesis, Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville.
  8. Blockstein, D.E. (1991) Population declines of the endangered endemic birds on Grenada, West Indies. Bird Conservation International, 1: 83-91.