Skip to content Skip to footer

Dove: Characteristics, Diet, Facts & More [Fact Sheet]

Doves, with their gentle cooing and graceful flight, have long been symbols of peace, love, and purity in various cultures. Belonging to the Columbidae family, which also includes pigeons, these birds are known for their unique features and behaviors.

This article provides an in-depth look into the world of doves, exploring their classification, physical traits, natural behaviors, and the roles they play in both natural ecosystems and human society.

The Dove at a Glance


Class:Aves (Birds)
Genus:Various, including Columba, Streptopelia, Zenaida, etc.

Essential Information

Average Size:Length: 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm)
Average Weight:4.2 to 8.1 ounces (120 to 230 grams)
Average Lifespan:3 to 5 years in the wild; longer in captivity
Geographical Range:Worldwide, with highest diversity in the tropics
Conservation Status:Varies by species; from Least Concern to Critically Endangered (IUCN Red List)

Species and Subspecies

The term “dove” encompasses a variety of species within the Columbidae family. Some notable species include:

  • Rock Dove (Columba livia): Often known as the common pigeon, found worldwide and the ancestor of domestic pigeons.
  • Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura): Widespread in North America, known for its mournful cooing.
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto): Recognizable by its black neck ring, found across Europe and Asia.
  • White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica): Found in the Americas, identifiable by its white wing edges.
  • Spotted Dove (Spilopelia chinensis): Common in Asia, known for its spotted neck patch.

These species exhibit a range of sizes, colors, and behaviors, but all share the characteristic rounded bodies, small heads, and short beaks that typify doves. Some species, like the Rock Dove, have adapted well to urban environments, while others remain predominantly in wild habitats.

Discover Other Dove Species

African collared dove
African collared dove


Doves are known for their sleek, streamlined bodies, soft plumage, and relatively small heads. They exhibit a variety of colors and patterns, depending on the species.

Most doves have compact bodies with a length ranging from 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm). They typically display a range of colors, including shades of gray, brown, and white, with some species having distinctive markings like collars or spots.

Doves have short, slender beaks and short legs. Their wings are broad, and many species have a rapid and direct flight pattern.

In many dove species, males and females look alike, although males may be slightly larger and sometimes have more vibrant coloration.

Habitat and Distribution

Doves are found in a wide range of habitats across the world, from dense forests to arid deserts and bustling urban areas. They are globally distributed with a significant presence in the tropics. Each species has adapted to specific habitats within this range.

While some species, like the Rock Dove, thrive in urban environments, others prefer woodland, grassland, or wetland habitats. Doves are generally adaptable and can be found in both rural and urban settings.

Zebra dove
Zebra dove


Doves exhibit a range of behaviors that are adapted to their environment and lifestyle. Most doves are diurnal, active during the day and resting at night. They are known for their gentle and unobtrusive demeanor.

Doves can be solitary or live in pairs or small flocks. Species like the Rock Dove are highly social and often found in large flocks, especially in urban areas.

Doves are known for their cooing calls, which vary across species and are used for communication, especially during the breeding season. They also use a range of body language signals for social interactions.

Doves have powerful muscles for flight, which allows for quick takeoffs and agile maneuvers. Their flight is characterized by rapid wingbeats and straight paths.

The behavior of doves, from their social interactions to their feeding habits, reflects their adaptability to different environments and has contributed to their success as a species.

Diet and Feeding Behavior

Doves are primarily herbivores, and their diet mainly consists of seeds, grains, and fruits. However, they can also consume insects and other small invertebrates, especially during the breeding season for extra protein.

They forage on the ground and in foliage, adept at picking food with their beaks. Doves have a unique ability to suck up water without needing to tilt their heads back.

The diet of a dove varies based on its habitat. For instance, urban doves like the Rock Pigeon may consume human-provided food, whereas forest-dwelling species rely more on natural seeds and fruits.


Doves face various predators depending on their habitat. Common predators include birds of prey like hawks and falcons, cats, and snakes. Nestlings and eggs are particularly vulnerable to predation.

Doves generally rely on their camouflage and quick flight abilities to evade predators. They are alert and cautious while feeding and roosting.

White-winged dove
White-winged dove

Reproduction and Life Cycle

The reproductive behavior of doves is characterized by some unique aspects. Many dove species form monogamous pairs, at least for a breeding season. The courtship often involves elaborate displays, including cooing, aerial flights, and mutual preening.

Nests are typically built in trees, shrubs, or on building ledges, constructed with twigs and leaves. The gestation period, or incubation, usually lasts about two weeks.

Most species lay one to two eggs per clutch. Both parents participate in incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks. The young are fed “crop milk,” a nutrient-rich substance produced in the parents’ crops.

Dove chicks, or squabs, develop rapidly and usually leave the nest within a few weeks of hatching. The ability of doves to breed multiple times per season, along with their adaptable nature, has contributed to their success and widespread distribution.

Conservation and Threats

The conservation status of doves varies widely among species. Many common species like the Rock Dove or Mourning Dove are abundant and not currently at risk. However, some specific species, especially those on isolated islands or in limited habitats, are at risk or endangered.

Key threats to dove populations include habitat loss, hunting, predation by introduced species (such as cats and rats), and use of pesticides that can poison their food sources.

Conservation strategies for doves involve habitat preservation, legal protection from hunting, and controlling invasive species. Additionally, public education and conservation programs are vital for protecting threatened species.

Fun Facts

  1. Symbolism: Doves are universally recognized as symbols of peace, love, and hope, featured extensively in art, literature, and religious texts.
  2. Variety of Species: There are over 300 species of doves and pigeons worldwide, with a remarkable diversity in size, color, and habitat.
  3. Navigation Skills: Doves, particularly homing pigeons (a variety of Rock Dove), have remarkable navigation abilities and have been used historically to carry messages over long distances.
  4. Unique Drinking Method: Unlike most birds, doves can drink water by sucking it up without needing to tilt their heads back.
  5. ‘Crop Milk’: Parent doves produce a nutritious fluid called crop milk to feed their young, a rare trait among birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a dove and a pigeon?

The terms ‘dove’ and ‘pigeon’ are often used interchangeably. Generally, smaller species in the Columbidae family are referred to as doves, while larger ones are known as pigeons.

How long do doves live?

The lifespan of doves varies by species, but most wild doves live for 3 to 5 years. In captivity, they can live longer.

What do doves eat?

Doves primarily eat seeds, grains, and fruits. They occasionally consume insects and other small invertebrates.

Can doves be kept as pets?

Yes, some dove species can be kept as pets. They are known for their gentle nature and soothing coo.

How do doves mate?

Doves typically form monogamous pairs and engage in courtship displays that include cooing and mutual preening. Both parents usually help in raising the young.

Leave a Comment