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White-winged Dove


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Originally a bird of desert thickets, the White-winged Dove has become a common sight in cities and towns across the southern U.S. When perched, this bird’s unspotted brown upperparts and neat white crescents along the wing distinguish it from the ubiquitous Mourning Dove. In flight, those subdued crescents become flashing white stripes worthy of the bird’s common name. Take a closer look and you’ll see a remarkably colorful face, with bright-orange eyes and blue “eye shadow.”

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
Relative Size
Smaller than a Eurasian Collared-Dove; larger than a Mourning Dove.
Other Names
  • Paloma de alas blancas (Spanish)
  • Tourterelle à ailes blanches (French)

Cool Facts

  • In the Sonoran Desert, nesting White-winged Doves eat mostly the nectar, pollen, fruit, and seeds of the saguaro cactus. They’re so dependent on the saguaro they time their migration and nesting to match its fruiting schedule. Saguaro seeds are the only small seeds that a White-winged Dove will bother with—possibly because they sit in a large, cup-shaped fruit that makes them easy to eat.
  • Like other doves and pigeons, White-winged Doves have some unusual abilities. They can suck and swallow water without moving their heads. And they use a secretion from the esophagus, known as crop milk, to feed nestlings. Both parents may consume snails and bone fragments to help their bodies create the nutritious fluid.
  • Although the White-winged Dove is mostly resident in the Southwest, it is expanding its range, and individuals can be found far afield. White-winged Doves have been seen from Alaska to Ontario, Maine, Newfoundland, and most places in between.
  • During the twentieth century, habitat loss and heavy hunting led to a serious drop in White-winged Dove populations in Texas—from as many as 12 million to fewer than 1 million by 1939. But with proactive management of hunting and the species’ ability to adapt to urban living, the population rebounded to some 2.2 million by 2001, and its range is still expanding.
  • In the early 1980s, the singer Stevie Nicks introduced millions of Americans to the White-winged Dove with her song “Edge of Seventeen,” which hit #11 on the Billboard charts.
  • The oldest White-winged Dove on record was at least 21 years and 9 months old. It was banded in Arizona and later recovered in Mexico.


Open Woodland

White-winged Doves live in dense, thorny forests, streamside woodlands, deserts full of cactus and palo verde, and, more recently, urban and suburban areas of the southern U.S. They tend to breed in the interiors of forests rather than near the edges. White-winged Doves now breed as far north as Oklahoma, possibly taking advantage of bird feeders and artificial heat sources in cities. Their breeding range extends south to Panama and east to Cuba. Throughout their range White-winged Doves prefer places where nesting habitat is interspersed with feeding habitat, like grain fields or desert cactus communities. In the winter White-winged Doves are found throughout most of their breeding range as well as in the southeastern United States, and some individuals wander widely across the continent.



Across much of its range, the vegetarian White-winged Dove eats mostly grains and other agricultural crops like wheat, sunflower, milo, corn, and safflower. It also eats fruits and large seeds from plants like spurge, panic grass, bristlegrass, Mexican jumping beans, Chinese tallow, leatherweed, saguaro, lime prickly-ash, brasil, privet, pigeonberry, and ocotillo. The White-winged Dove seems to be predisposed toward large seeds because of its large bill and gape, along with its slower eating style (it never pecks quickly, the way Mourning Doves do). White-winged Doves also commonly feed above ground level, unlike Mourning Doves, on seedheads, berries, and raised bird feeders. Like many birds, White-winged Doves consume small stones to help pulverize plant material in their gizzards, and they may eat snails and bone fragments as a source of calcium.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–2 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
1.1–1.3 in
2.7–3.2 cm
Egg Width
0.7–0.9 in
1.9–2.3 cm
Incubation Period
14–20 days
Nestling Period
13–18 days
Egg Description
Creamy white or buff with a dull texture.
Condition at Hatching
Eyes closed and dark skin coated with long off-white down feathers. Weak and uncoordinated.
Nest Description

The male gathers twigs and brings them to the female, which constructs the nest over a couple of days. Made mostly of twigs, the nest also may have weeds, grasses or Spanish moss arranged in a flimsy bowl about 4 inches across. On rare occasions it’s also lined with leaves, bark, feathers, or pine needles.

Nest Placement


The male chooses the territory and the general nesting site, while the female selects the specific nest site, usually on a tree branch or crotch under heavy shade. In cities, the doves choose large ornamental shade trees like pecan, live oak, and ash. Elsewhere, they gravitate toward the interior of dense woodlands, particularly along streams.


Ground Forager

White-winged Doves walk along tree branches and on the ground; they fly in a swift and straight path. Courting and nesting males will occasionally strike bills and slap wings with each other, but they mostly defend their cooing perches and nests by calling or flailing their wings and tail. Males perform courtship flights, spiraling up into the sky and then returning to the branch he started from in a stiff-winged glide. They may also bow, puff up their necks, or fan the tail to entice females to mate; White-winged Doves are monogamous and stay together for at least one breeding season. When a predator comes to call at the nest, White-winged Doves may feign a broken wing to lead the intruder away. In other situations, they escape by flying directly into the bushes. Predators of adults or young include Great-tailed Grackles, Green Jays, Cactus Wrens, Gila Woodpeckers, Great Horned Owls, woodrats, deer mice, gray foxes, Norway rats, black rats, house cats, and snakes.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

White-winged Dove populations increased between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 8 million with 57% spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 34% in Mexico. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Humans have sharply reduced habitat for White-winged Doves (along with other animals that live in woodland interiors) by clearing land and fragmenting forests. In the early twentieth century, sportsmen hunted the doves so heavily that the populations declined in parts of their range, particularly their U.S. stronghold in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. However, the doves seem to have found an expansive new habitat type to which they are well adapted—cities and towns, possibly because of backyard bird feeders, warm asphalt and concrete surfaces, and artificial heat sources. They have been expanding northward since the 1980s, offsetting their former decline. White-winged Doves are still hunted, but in 1971 Texas began requiring all hunters to buy White-winged Dove hunting stamps. The government sold 1.4 million stamps in the first 30 years, generating $8.4 million for White-winged Dove conservation. The doves are still affected by habitat loss in their original range, and like many birds they also fall victim to striking utility lines, cars, and buildings.


Range Map Help

White-winged Dove Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings


Resident or irregular, short-distance migrant. Populations in the southern U.S. mostly stay put in the winter, but some make movements following the breeding season—not just toward the south, but also eastward and westward toward the coasts, or even northward. Some move as far south as Central America. In fall they migrate in groups of fewer than 50 doves, flying at low altitudes that are a little higher than their day-to-day flights. In spring they may join larger groups.

Backyard Tips

White-winged Doves often eat at elevated bird feeders. They’re fond of seeds, including sunflower, milo, corn, safflower, and they may also eat berries from shrubs. White-winged Doves sometimes fly into windows when startled, so it’s important to make sure your windows are bird-safe.

Find This Bird

Look for White-winged Doves near urban areas, including in cities, in the southern U.S. They forage on the ground in small groups, perch on bird feeders, or nest in big shade trees. They’re a delicate tan when perched, but in flight they become quite striking, with long white wing stripes setting off dark outer wings. In the forests and cactus deserts of the Southwest, they’re often found near water in the morning and afternoon.



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