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Inca Dove

Columbina inca ORDER: COLUMBIFORMES FAMILY: COLUMBIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The tiny Inca Dove is covered in tan scaly-looking feathers and blends right in with its suburban desert habitats. That is, until it bursts into flight, making a dry rattling whir with its wings while flashing chestnut underwings and white in its tail. It nods its head forward and back with each step and coos a mournful "no hope" from the trees. In recent years, this dove has expanded to the north and is now being seen as far north as Colorado, perhaps due to increased human settlement.

Keys to identification Help

Doves
Doves
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Inca Dove is a small and slender dove with a long, square-tipped tail and small head. It has a thin and slightly drooping bill and short legs.

  • Color Pattern

    The Inca Dove is the color of desert sands. Its tan feathers are edged in dark brown creating a scaly pattern over the entire body. Its underparts and face are paler than its back. In flight, the underwings flash a rich chestnut and the outer tail feathers flash white.

  • Behavior

    Inca Doves walk quietly on the ground pushing their heads forward and back as they go. When they take flight their wings make a dry rattling sound. They are vocal doves, cooing "no hope" at all hours of the day all year long.

  • Habitat

    Inca Doves frequent areas near people including cities, towns, parks, and farms. In these areas, they use open areas with sparse shrub cover and scattered trees such as palo verde and oak.

Range Map Help

Inca Dove Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adults

    Inca Dove

    Adults
    • Small, pale brown doves
    • Distinct scaly pattern
    • Long, square-tipped tail
    • Often seen "fluffed up" in cold weather
    • © Greg Lavaty, Texas, December 2016
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Small brown dove
    • Distinctive scaly pattern throughout
    • Long tail
    • © Stephen Ramirez, Texas, January 2010
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Small, pale-brown dove
    • Long, square-tipped tails with white outer feathers
    • Distinct scaly pattern
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Schertz, Texas, May 2013
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Small, scaly dove
    • Light brown overall
    • Long, square-tipped tail
    • © Tripp Davenport, Big Springs Ranch, Real County, Texas, June 2009
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Small, slender dove
    • Distinctive scaly pattern
    • Long tail with white outer feathers
    • © Greg Page, High Island, Texas, June 2010
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Petite, pale brown dove
    • Scaly overall
    • Long, square-tipped tail
    • © Mikael Behrens, Austin, Texas, August 2008
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Small, pale brown dove
    • Bright rufous on under-wings
    • Long tail
    • © Greg Page, South Llano River State Park, Texas, May 2010
  • Adult

    Inca Dove

    Adult
    • Small, pale-brown dove
    • Distinct scaly pattern
    • Long, square-tipped tail
    • © Stephen Ramirez, Texas, February 2010
  • Adults

    Inca Dove

    Adults
    • Small, pale brown doves
    • Often seen "fluffed up" in cold weather
    • Long, square-tipped tails with white outer feathers
    • © Stephen Ramirez, Texas, March 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Larger and stockier than Inca Dove
    • No scaling
    • Tapering, pointed tail
    • Black mark on cheeks
    • © Douglas K. Davis, Mosinee, Wisconsin, February 2007
  • Adult

    Common Ground-Dove

    Adult
    • Smaller and stockier than Inca Dove
    • Short tail
    • Scaly pattern only on head and neck, not on body
    • Spots on wings
    • © Mark Eden/GBBC, Florida, February 2011

Similar Species

Size, shape, and color of the tail are good features to check to identify doves. Common Ground-Doves are slightly smaller than Inca Doves with a shorter tail that flashes only 2 tiny spots on the outer tail in flight, compared with the Inca Dove’s long white outer tail feathers. Common Ground-Doves also have dark brown spots on their wings and have a solid tan back rather than the scaly pattern of Inca Dove. Mourning Doves are much larger than Inca Doves and have a long tapered tail that is scalloped in white. Mourning Doves also do not have a scaly-looking body like Inca Doves.

Backyard Tips

This species often comes to bird feeders. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.

Inca Doves frequently visit ground and platform feeders in the Southwest. Learn more about what types of feeders and seeds to use on Project FeederWatch.

Planting native trees and shrubs around your yard can provide Inca Doves with places to rest and nest. Learn more about providing bird friendly habitat at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

Despite this bird’s repeated calls of “no hope,” there is hope of seeing them, as they are not shy. In the U.S., Inca Doves only occur in the Southwest, but they are expanding their range, tend to live near people, and are not habitat specialists. A stroll through a town or farm at any time of day is likely to turn up a few Inca Doves. They tend to hang out in open areas near buildings where they forage on the ground. If you don't see them at first, try walking through dusty open areas in a park and they may startle you as they flush at your approach. They usually fly to a nearby tree, so even if they do flush you still have a chance of seeing one. They also visit feeders regularly, so stop by a feeder or put one up to bring them to you.

Get Involved

Tell us how many Inca Doves and other birds are at your feeders during the winter. Become a participant of Project FeederWatch and help contribute valuable data. Learn more and sign up at Project FeederWatch.

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