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Common Ground-Dove

Columbina passerina ORDER: COLUMBIFORMES FAMILY: COLUMBIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A dove the size of a sparrow, the Common Ground-Dove forages in dusty open areas, sometimes overshadowed by the grass clumps it is feeding beneath. Its dusty plumage is easy to overlook until the bird springs into flight with a soft rattling of feathers and a flash of reddish-brown in the wings. These small, attractive doves are common across the southernmost parts of the U.S. from California to Florida.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.9–7.1 in
15–18 cm
Wingspan
10.6 in
27 cm
Weight
1–1.4 oz
28–40 g
Relative Size
About the same size as a House Sparrow; slightly smaller than an Inca Dove.
Other Names
  • Colombe à queue noire (French)
  • Columbina común, Palomito de suelos, rolita (Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic), tojosa (Cuba), Tórtola coquita (Mexico) (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • It’s estimated that a Common Ground-Dove has to eat more than 2,500 seeds every day to meet its energetic demands. It can store hundreds of seeds in its two-lobed crop, an enlarged pocket of the esophagus.
  • Ground-doves may breed opportunistically after rainfall or fire to take advantage of the extra abundance of seeds. Both parents use a secretion from the esophagus, known as crop milk, to feed nestlings. Since they do not have to rely on specific food items for their chicks, ground-doves can have a long breeding season with multiple broods.
  • Like other doves and pigeons, Common Ground-Doves can suck up and swallow water without raising their heads.
  • The Common Ground-Dove is about the same size as a Song Sparrow, making it one of the smallest doves in North America. Its diminutive size is reflected in both the genus name Columbina, which means little dove, and in the species name passerina, which means sparrow.
  • In the rural South, the Common Ground-Dove is sometimes called the “moaning dove” for its repetitive call or the “tobacco dove” for making its home near farm fields.
  • In flight ground-doves make a whirring sound, probably produced by a notch in the seventh primary feather on each wing.
  • Because it nests and feeds on the ground, the Common Ground-Dove lives in constant danger of predation from terrestrial animals like bobcats, opossums, raccoons, skunks, foxes, dogs, cats, and snakes. Birds hunt it too, including crows, jays, blackbirds, owls, hawks, falcons, and shrikes. The ground-dove’s main weapon against predators is concealment: hiding in vegetation or simply blending into the dusty ground.
  • The oldest Common Ground-Dove on record was seven years and two months old.

Habitat


Scrub

Common Ground-Doves live in arid, open woodlands in the early stages of forest development, including pine woods, hammocks, lake shores, forest edges, coastal dunes, mesquite flats, river bottom woodlands, deserts, desert scrublands, oak scrublands, and savannas. They are also found in human landscapes, especially irrigated farm fields and residential neighborhoods.

Food


Seeds

Common Ground-Doves make their living by gleaning small seeds from wild grasses and weeds. They are also common visitors to bird feeders. They may specialize on certain seeds during the summer, when food is abundant, but eat a variety of seeds during winter. Ground-doves also feed on small berries and insects. In spring and summer they may eat snail shells, possibly to replenish the calcium devoted to eggs and crop-milk during nesting.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–3 eggs
Number of Broods
1-4 broods
Egg Length
0.8–0.9 in
2–2.4 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.5–1.7 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
11–14 days
Egg Description
Uniformly white and smooth.
Condition at Hatching
Eyes closed and body covered with sparse gray down.
Nest Description

Ground-doves invest minimal time in building their nests, but both sexes share the labor. When nesting on the ground they dig a slight depression in the earth and line it with a few grasses, weeds, rootlets, palm fibers, or pine needles. For above-ground nests they build flimsy structures of twigs or pine needles lined with rootlets and grasses. Each nest is up to 3 inches across but less than half an inch deep, meaning that the eggs are usually visible above the rim of the nest.

Nest Placement

Ground

Common Ground-Doves typically build nests on the ground in fields, and they may also use above-ground sites including bushes, low horizontal tree branches, stumps, fence posts, vines, cornstalks, palm fronds, mangroves, mesquite thickets, and prickly pear cacti.

Behavior


Ground Forager

During the day Common Ground-Doves spend time on the ground searching for seeds and roosting. They may also roost in trees or shrubs at any hour of the day or night. They nod their heads as they walk, often holding their tails slightly elevated, and they usually make short, low, and direct flights. When startled they can quickly burst into nearby cover, but they are not a very anxious bird—allowing humans to get very close without appearing bothered. Common Ground-Doves gather in flocks of their own kind and with other dove species, particularly Inca Doves where their ranges overlap in Texas and the Southwest. When males compete for food or mates they may make sharp cooing calls and raise one or both wings, revealing chestnut wing-patches. A courting male follows the female and keeps doing this, sometimes flying after her to stay near. Eventually the female accepts regurgitated food from the male, and the pair bond is cemented; pairs stay together for several years. Before mating, the male bows to the female with puffed feathers, flicking his wings and giving a guttural call.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Common Ground-Doves are widespread and common thoughout their range, and their numbers have been stable over the last half-century according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 13 million, with 18 percent living in the U.S., and 21 percent in Mexico. They rate a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and they are not on the 2012 Watch List. More than 85 percent of scrub habitats have been lost to agriculture and residential development in the last half-century, with fire suppression degrading much of the remaining habitat. Since these doves lay their eggs on the ground, people can unwittingly disturb their nests during daily activities. Common Ground-Doves are often killed by colliding with vehicles and human structures. Other major causes of death include predation (often by domestic cats) and hunting.

Credits

Range Map Help

Common Ground-Dove Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Year-round resident and occasional short-distance migrant. Northern individuals may move slightly farther south in the winter, while high-elevation individuals may move to lower elevations.

Backyard Tips

Common Ground-Doves come to ground feeders with commercial birdseed, rapeseed, millet, canary seed, buckwheat, sorghum, and other seeds. They need nearby shrub cover to stay hidden from predators. They regularly visit water holes to drink, but make sure there is some open space around the water source so predators can’t sneak up on them too easily.

Find This Bird

Common Ground-Doves are often found in pairs or small flocks, but can be hard to see as their grayish-brown plumage blends in with the ground. People may not notice Common Ground-Doves until the birds flush into nearby brush, displaying rich chestnut wing patches as they fly. When people do spot these tiny, short-tailed doves, they sometimes mistake them for sparrows. You might hear a repetitive moaning call even if the bird is well concealed in the bushes.