White-winged doves are part-time residents of Arizona that arrive as the saguaro cactus blooms. They have become one of the principal pollinators of saguaros along with bats, bees, and other insects.
White-winged doves are grayish-brown with a white wing-patch visible as a narrow stripe along the lower edge of a folded wing. In flight, the white appears as a stripe on the upper side of the wing. The underside of the tail is white-tipped below a black stripe.
White-winged doves have a body length of about 12 inches and a wingspan of 19 inches.
White-winged doves summer in the southwest and spend the winter in southern Mexico. Some are permanent residents of the Carribbean and coastal southeastern U.S.
White-winged doves eat mainly seeds and fruit. They also sip nectar from saguaro flowers, and eat the saguaro fruit and seeds. Doves grind seeds in their muscular stomachs (or gizzards) using sand or gravel much like internal teeth. According to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, “White-winged Doves also disperse saguaro seeds: they eat the fruit, then regurgitate it to their young; in the process some seed falls beneath the nest where it germinates, and the young saguaro grows in the protection of the tree.”
White-winged doves have a distinctive call, something like a hooting “whoo-OOO-oo, ooo-oo.” You can listen to recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology here. They also make noise slapping their wings to ward off intruders.
Nesting: According to Cornell, “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. 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.” Clutch size is one or two eggs which are incubated for 14 to 20 days. Chicks fledge after about 18 days.
Cornell: “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.”
I maintain an elevated seed block in my back yard. It is visited by many kinds of birds. White-winged doves tend to be bullies, trying to keep other doves away from the food source. They are unable, however, to bully Gambels quails.
Doves have the ability to suck up water without moving their heads; the beak acts as a straw. Most other birds must fill their beak then tilt their heads back to swallow.
According to Cornell, White-winged dove populations have been increasing since 1966 and their range is also expanding. ” White-winged Doves have been seen from Alaska to Ontario, Maine, Newfoundland, and most places in between.”
See stories of other desert birds:
Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy Owl – is it a real species?
Cardinals, Pyrrhuloxias and Phainopeplas
Cooper’s Hawks – swift predators
Creatures of the night – Nighthawks and Poorwills
Great Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Harris’ Hawks, Wolves of the Air
Parrots in the desert?
Ravens and Crows
The Red-tailed Hawk, a varied and versatile predator
Roadrunner, a wily predator
Vultures, the clean-up crew
Way of the Hummingbird
Western Screech Owl