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Once-rare dove now makes ABQ its home


The white-winged dove is common in New Mexico and can be identified by a soft, rhythmic hooting. Photo Courtesy of Mary Schmauss

White-winged doves are common throughout New Mexico, but that has not always been the case.

I remember a sighting of a white-winged dove in the far Northeast Heights in Albuquerque around 1991. It created quite a stir with local bird enthusiasts, because it was considered a rare occurrence. Since the 1980s the white-winged dove has expanded its range from Mexico and the southern regions of the Southwest as far north as Canada and east to Maine.

This dove is found mainly in desert scrub habitat and in wooded areas along streams, but it has adapted well to urban settings. There is speculation that the heat generated from concrete buildings and asphalt in urban areas may have contributed to their expansion north. White-winged doves are thick-bodied, averaging about 11 inches long. They are brownish-gray, with white crescents that extend along the outside of their wings. The white wings are more noticeable in flight. They have a short, pointed bill and colorful face with a bright orange eye and blue eye ring. Their song is a rhythmic hooting.

The white-winged dove’s eating habits vary from those of other doves. Most doves prefer to forage on the ground, but white-winged doves commonly feed above ground level. They pick seeds from tall grasses and pluck fruits from trees and shrubs. White-winged doves also eat from elevated backyard bird feeders and visit birdbaths. Their diet consists of fruit, grains and sunflower seeds. They eat snails and bone fragments, especially during nesting season, for the calcium they provide. They also have unusual drinking habits. Most birds dip their bills into water and tilt their heads back to swallow. All doves, including the white-winged dove, put their bills in the water and suck the water in, as if using a straw, without moving their heads.

In the summer nesting season, white-winged doves produce a secretion from their esophagi to feed their young. This is called “crop milk.” If you provide a birdbath, it is not unusual to see a “milky” film in the water during the nesting season.

The white-winged dove is common throughout New Mexico and the rest of the southwest, but in Texas, by 1939, overhunting combined with habitat loss had reduced the population significantly. Texas has since established conservation measures to ensure a stable population. The oldest dove on record was 21 years, 9 months old. It was banded in Arizona and Mexico.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard.”