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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.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
7.1–9.1 in
18–23 cm
Weight
1.1–2 oz
30–58 g
Relative Size
Slightly larger than a Common Ground-Dove, smaller than a Mourning Dove.
Other Names
  • Coquita Común, Tortolita San Juan (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Some birds seem to tolerate seriously cold temperatures, but not the Inca Dove. When the temperature drops to around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, these southern doves get cold and take action, huddling together in the sunshine to stay warm. Sometimes they even sit on top of each other, forming a dove pyramid up to 3 doves high—a behavior called “pyramid roosting."
  • The eyes of an Inca Dove may give away what it is feeling. Inca Doves have red eyes, but their red eyes become even brighter when they are threatened by an intruder.
  • Most birds have an oil gland at the base of their tail called the uropygial gland. They use the oils produced by this gland to keep their feathers in tiptop shape. Doves lack these glands and instead use powder produced by their down feathers for the same purpose.
  • Inca Doves, like other doves, feed their young "pigeon milk" or “crop milk.” Both males and females produce this substance in their crops (the pouch just above the stomach that birds use to store food). The walls of the crop swell with fat and proteins until the cells in the crop wall begin shedding, producing a nutritious, milky-colored secretion. Despite its appearance, it’s not related to the milk produced by mammals.
  • The oldest recorded Inca Dove was at least 10 years, 10 months old when it was caught and killed by a cat in Texas in 1989. It had been banded in the same state in 1979.

Habitat


Town

Inca Doves use farmlands, parks, suburbs, and urban areas with open ground and scattered trees and shrubs such as palo verde and oak in dry areas of the Southwest. They generally avoid forested areas, seeking bare ground with short vegetation instead.

Food


Seeds

Inca Doves eat almost exclusively seeds. They walk along the ground picking at seeds from grasses, flowers, and shrubs. They also eat grains and seeds from bird feeders including black oil sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, and nyjer seeds.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2 eggs
Number of Broods
2-5 broods
Egg Length
0.8–1 in
2–2.5 cm
Egg Width
0.6–0.7 in
1.5–1.8 cm
Incubation Period
13–15 days
Nestling Period
12–16 days
Egg Description
White and unmarked.
Condition at Hatching
Naked with sparse down.
Nest Description

Males and females work together to build a rough and flimsy platform of twigs, grass, leaves, rootlets, and strips of bark. Construction takes about 3 days. The nest usually has no lining, but sometimes they put a bit of grass or a few feathers in the nest. Inca Doves often nest several times in the same year, and they frequently reuse the same nest for each attempt. Over time the nest becomes cemented with excrement left from nestlings. The nest is about 2 inches across and 1 inch high. Though they usually build their own nests they also reuse old nests built by Mourning Doves, Northern Mockingbirds, Cactus Wrens, or Northern Cardinals.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Inca Doves nest in trees and shrubs as well as on utility poles, houses, and other structures. Nest height ranges from half a foot to 50 feet above the ground. The male gathers grasses and twigs for the female. He walks up to her with pieces of nesting material in his mouth, climbs up her back, and passes it to her or lays it by her side. She then arranges the grasses and twigs into a nest and occasionally collects nesting material herself.

Behavior


Ground Forager

Inca Doves walk along the ground pushing their heads forward with each step. They forage on the ground singly or in groups gently picking at the ground for seeds and grains. They move loose vegetation out of the way by tossing their bill side to side, uncovering seeds hidden below. If they are disturbed while foraging, they burst into an audible flight flashing their chestnut underwings and white outer tail feathers. They generally do not fly far after being startled and often resettle in a nearby tree or shrub. Although they often forage in groups, males maintain territory boundaries during the breeding season. Territorial males threaten intruding doves by walking in a zigzag pattern toward the intruder. If the intruder does not go away, he flips one wing up and continues to walk toward them, attacking them with his wings and bill. Male and female Inca Doves form monogamous bonds during the breeding season. Pair bonding begins with a display in which the male starts bobbing his head. If she is receptive, the female responds in kind. As courtship progresses, they begin preening each other and continue to do so throughout the breeding season. In the final step of courtship, the male faces the female and sticks his tail straight up in the air while fanning it. Within a week after the tail fanning display, the female starts building the nest. At this time, the male starts guarding his mate, herding her away from other interested males.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Inca doves are common throughout their range, and U.S. populations increased by over 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 3 million, with 33% living in the United States and 61% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Inca Dove is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Inca Doves appear well adapted to human settlements and have expanded north in recent years. As of 2017, they have been found as far north as Colorado, where prior to the early 1990s they were absent.

Credits

Range Map Help

Inca Dove Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident.

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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