Photo Credit: Bill Horn
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Zenaida asiatica
OTHER NAMES: “La plaga”
DESCRIPTION: The white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) is a large, semi-tropical, migratory, bird of the pigeon family – Columbidae. This new world dove is about 1/3 larger than the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) with a wing span of approximately 20 inches and total body length of 12 inches. White-winged dove adults weigh about seven ounces. Adults generally are brown; juveniles are grayish brown in color. The white-winged doves principal identifying feature is its white wing bars that appear as white flashes when the bird is in flight. The tail of the white-winged dove is rounded to squared, and has a white tail margin.
Irises of adult white-winged doves are red and a blue ring of featherless skin surrounds each eye. Juvenile white-wings have black eye irises and no noticeable eye ring. Adult’s have pinkish-red legs and feet. Juvenile’s legs and feet are light brown to pink.
DISTRIBUTION: The white-winged dove possibly nests within the state of Alabama. It is listed as occurring occasionally during summer, fall and winter months in all areas of Alabama except the Gulf Coast region. This dove species is listed as uncommon in spring and fall, rare in winter, and occasional in summer in the Gulf Coast region of Alabama.
White-winged doves’ traditional range is the southwestern states of the United States, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. White wings were released in Dade County Florida, near Homestead, in 1959 and now populate the southeastern 1/3 of Florida.
There are 12 recognized subspecies of white-winged doves, four of which are found in the United States. The subspecies most likely to be found in Alabama is the eastern white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica asiatica).
HABITAT: The white-winged dove in Alabama inhabits farms, woodlots, and grasslands.
FEEDING HABITS: White-winged doves feed primarily on seeds, mast, and fruit. The species of food consumed will vary by season and geographical location, based mainly on available food sources. In the eastern portion of its range, including Alabama, native sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), croton (Croton spp), panic grasses and native bunch grasses are important food sources. Scattered waste seed, from agricultural fields, such as corn, cereal grains, grain sorghum, sunflower, and peanuts are readily eaten by white-winged doves.
White-wings not only feed on waste grain left behind on the ground, but will also perch on seed heads, such as sunflowers and grain sorghum, to eat the seed before they are mature enough to shatter and fall to the ground. Unlike the mourning dove, which feeds almost exclusively on the ground, white-wings have the potential to inflict serious damage to commercial agricultural crops. In south Texas and Mexico farmers refer to white-wings as “la plaga” (the plague) when thousands of the birds invade an isolated field and devour most of the seed.
LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY: White-winged doves form a monogamous pair bond which normally lasts one breeding season. Both sexes construct the nest with the female fabricating the nest from material supplied by the male. Nesting occurs from late April until August and in parts of the white-wings’ range may take place in large colonies (over one million nests per colony). Normally two eggs are laid per nest on successive days and fourteen days later the first laid egg will hatch. Young hatching doves are fed pigeon milk by both parents. Pigeon milk or “crop milk” is secreted by the crop gland and the milk is very similar to mammalian milk. Young dove squabs leave the nest at about fourteen days of age and are independent of their parents by one month of age.
The female dove re-nests as soon as the young squabs leave the nest – the male dove cares for the fledglings for about two weeks post leaving the nest. This reproductive cycle will be repeated until early August in most of the white-wing’s ranges. Reproduction may continue into early fall in northern regions of the doves range, especially since its range has been expanding north and east for several decades.
White-winged doves are much more gregarious than mourning doves, tending to be more like its extinct passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorus) cousin.
George, R.R., R.E. Tomlinson, R.W. Engel-Wilson, G.L. Waggerman, and A.G. Spratt. 1993. The White-winged dove. Migratory shore and upland game bird management in North America. pp 29-50.
Imhof, T. E. 1976. Alabama birds. University of Alabama Press. Tuscaloosa, AL. p. 222.
AUTHOR: Thagard Colvin, Wildlife Biologist, Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, November 2006