Found throughout the Caribbean, the Zenaida dove (Zenaida aurita) is a rather stocky dove species with a low, mournful call (3) (4). Its plumage is largely reddish- to greyish-brown above and lighter pinkish-brown below, with a more cinnamon head and a greyish hindneck (2) (3) (4). There is an iridescent purple patch on the side of the neck, and two dark violet-blue streaks on the side of the face, which appear black from a distance (2) (3) (4). The wings of the Zenaida dove bear black spots, and the outer secondary feathers have white tips. Its tail is fairly rounded, with a black band near the end and white tips to the outer tail feathers (2) (3) (4) (5). The beak is black and the legs and feet are red (2).
The female Zenaida dove is duller and paler than the male, with a greyer back and a smaller iridescent neck patch. Juveniles resemble the adult female, but lack the iridescent neck patch and have buffy edges to the back and wing feathers (2) (4). Three subspecies of Zenaida dove are generally recognised: Zenaida aurita aurita, Zenaida aurita salvadorii and Zenaida aurita zenaida. The subspecies Zenaida aurita zenaida is darker, with bluish-grey rather than white tips to the tail feathers, while Zenaida aurita salvadorii is more greyish or olive-brown above, with only a slight reddish tinge, and the tips of its outer tail feathers are greyish-white (2).
The Zenaida dove sings with a gentle, mournful-sounding cooing, described as ‘coo-oo, coo, coo, coo’ or ‘hoo’ooo-oo oo-ooo’ (3) (4) (5). Its song resembles that of the closely related mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), but is usually slightly more curtailed (3). The Zenaida dove can also be distinguished from the mourning dove by its shorter, less pointed tail, proportionately larger legs and feet, and by the white in its wings (2) (4) (5).
- Also known as
- mountain dove, pea dove, seaside dove, wood dove.
- Columba aurita.
- Length: 28 - 30.5 cm (2)
- Male weight: 149 - 180 g (2)
- Female weight: 120 - 145 g (2)
Zenaida dove biology
Although it often nests and roosts in trees, the Zenaida dove typically forages, and sometimes also nests, on the ground (2) (3) (4). This species is usually seen alone or in pairs, but may occasionally form small flocks (2) (4). The diet of the Zenaida dove includes a range of fruits and seeds, and it has also been recorded feeding on earthworms, ants and flies. In addition, the Zenaida dove sometimes eats salt from soil deposits or livestock mineral blocks, probably to increase its intake of sodium (2).
The breeding season of the Zenaida dove varies with location, ranging from March to December in Dominica and May to August in the Virgin Islands, to year-round in Puerto Rico (2). The nest may be built in a tree or shrub, or placed on the ground on islands with few or no predators (2) (3) (4). Two white eggs are usually laid (2) (3), and are incubated for 13 to 15 days (2).
Like other pigeons and doves, the Zenaida dove is likely to feed its newly hatched chicks on an unusual secretion from the adult’s crop. Known as ‘crop milk’, this substance is rich in energy and nutrients and enables the young Zenaida doves to grow rapidly. It is later supplemented with seeds (7). Both adults care for the chicks (7), which fledge at 13 to 15 days old (2). The Zenaida dove may be able to breed for the first time at just under a year old, and each pair may produce up to four broods a year (2).
Zenaida dove range
The Zenaida dove is found in the Caribbean and on the northern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico (2) (3) (4) (6). The subspecies Zenaida aurita aurita occurs in the Lesser Antilles, from Anguilla to Grenada, while Zenaida aurita salvadorii occurs in the Yucatán Peninsula and on the nearby islands of Cozumel, Holbox and Mujeres. Zenaida aurita zenaida is found from the Bahamas, Cuba, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica to Hispaniola, Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands (2). It also formerly occurred in the Florida Keys, in the USA, but is now extinct there (2) (3).
Zenaida dove habitat
Usually found in lowland and coastal areas, the Zenaida dove inhabits open woodland, forest edge, clearings, scrub thickets and shrubby areas, cultivated fields, gardens and mangroves (2) (3) (4) (5) (6). It generally avoids dense forest (3).
Zenaida dove status
The Zenaida dove is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Zenaida dove threats
The Zenaida dove is widespread and its population appears to be increasing (6). This species has benefitted from agricultural practices that have cleared the original vegetation within its range, and it also occurs in cities (2).
There are not known to be any major threats to the Zenaida dove at present, despite the fact that it is widely taken as a game bird and is subject to intense hunting pressure (2). The subspecies Zenaida aurita zenaida has been lost from the Florida Keys (2) (3), but the reasons for this are unclear.
Zenaida dove conservation
There are no known specific conservation measures currently in place for the Zenaida dove.
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- The crop is an expanded, muscular pouch near the throat. It is a part of the digestive tract, and is used to temporarily store food.
- Crop milk
- A liquid secreted from the lining of the crop (a muscular pouch near the throat) of adult pigeons, which is fed to the young by regurgitation.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Secondary feathers
- The shorter flight feathers projecting along the inner edge of a bird’s wing.
- 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.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1997) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Bond, J. (1993) Birds of the West Indies. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, Massachusetts.
Howell, S.N.G. and Webb, S. (1995) A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Raffaele, H., Wiley, J., Garrido, O., Keith, A. and Raffaele, J. (2003) Birds of the West Indies. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
BirdLife International (March, 2011)
Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.