Columbina passerinacommon ground dove(Also: common ground-dove)

Geographic Range

Common ground doves (Columbina passerina) have one of the widest and northernmost distributions in the genus Columbina. Common ground doves are found throughout the southernmost tier of the United States, from California to Florida, the West Indies, Mexico, much of Central America, and the northern third of South America. (Bowman, 2002)


Common ground doves make seasonal movements - during the wintertime they leave the colder, inland, and high-altitude portions of their range. The majority of these birds settle close to where they are born, but some are found north of their breeding range. They are generally found in arid, early-successional, open woodlands and shrub habitats. In addition, they are also found near human occupied areas such as irrigated agricultural fields and less dense residential areas. Their breeding range can be natural or human-modified habitats, which are relatively dry and open. For their natural habitats they prefer open pine woods, forest edges, lakeshores, and coastal dunes. In the southwestern U.S. they inhabit mesquite flats and river bottom woodlands. They also breed in desert environments such as desert scrub, alkali desert scrub, riparian, and desert wash areas. When close to coastlines, common ground doves breed in river valleys. When in Florida they prefer xeric oak scrub, open pines, flat woods, scrubby flat woods, and coastal strands. In Grenada they prefer secondary grasslands, secondary scrub, savanna, young secondary forests, and residential areas. Within residential areas they breed in gardens, farm fields, horse corrals, agricultural edges, old fields, suburbs, cotton fields, pine plantations, and overgrazed grasslands. They mostly overwinter in coastal counties in Louisiana and Mississippi. (Bowman, 2002; Unitt, 1984; Wunderle, 1985)

Physical Description

Common ground doves are the smallest species in their family (Columbidae) and are also the smallest dove in North America. They are about the size of a sparrow, with both sexes reaching 15 to 18 cm in length and an average body mass of 28 to 40g. They are chunky, with short legs and sandy brown coloration wtih dark spots on their wing coverts. One distinguishing feature of common ground doves is the scaling on their underparts, which extends from their throats to their lower breasts. They have short round wings, short tails, and thin beaks. Their beaks are bicolored, with dark tips and bright-orange or reddish-pink bases. They also have rufous patches that are visible when they are in flight.

Males have a pinkish color on their heads, chests, and necks, as well as blue crowns. Overall, females are duller in comparison to males. Both sexes have feet and legs that are a pinkish color. However, during the breeding season, the legs of males become brighter. Hatchlings have dull gray skin, are sparsely covered, and have hair like structures along their small bodies. Juveniles resemble adults in many ways, the only differences being that juveniles have lighter breast scaling and juvenile male breasts are a bit pinker than female breasts. (Bowman, 2002; Hesse, et al., 2017)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Average mass
    28-40 g
  • Average length
    15-18 cm


Common ground doves form close social bonds, especially as breeding pairs. Breeding pairs maintain persistent pair bonds throughout and between years. They have long breeding seasons that last almost the entire year. In this time they produce multiple broods. It is rare for birds to breed before 10 to 12 months of age, but there is evidence of breeding by juvenile common ground doves.

The timing of the peak of breeding season is dependent on resource availability within a breeding area. Common ground doves regularly nest from February through October. Nest-building occurs 3 to 4 days prior to egg-laying. Ground doves build flimsy nests which they invest minimal time in building. Their nests may be built on or above the ground. Both sexes help with this task - one member of the pair usually sits upon the incipient nest while the other brings building material. When they build on the ground, common ground doves dig a small indentation and line it with grass, weeds, palm fibers, or needles. They fashion above-ground nests using twigs or pine needles and line them with roots and grasses. Nests are usually 64 to 76 mm in diameter with a depth of 30 to 51 mm. The tops of eggs can usually be seen above nest rims. (Bowman, 2002; Bowman and Woolfeden, 1997; Hesse, et al., 2017; Passmore, 1984; Robertson, 1988; Skutch, 1956)

Common ground doves lay white, ovular eggs which have an average mass of 3.2 g. The typical brood size is two eggs. It takes about one month to complete a successful nesting cycle. This includes egg incubation for 12 to 14 days and nestling care for 11 to 14 days. Parents take turn incubating eggs and feeding nestlings. Nestlings eat a mixture of seeds and crop milk and begin feeding within hours of hatching. Newborn chicks are altricial - their eyes are closed and they are covered with sparse, hair-like, gray down. Both partners brood and time of brooding decreases as nestlings become older. Parents make new nests within 2 to 3 weeks, so chicks become independent within this time. (Bowman, 2002; Hesse, et al., 2017; Passmore, 1984; Robertson, 1988)

  • Breeding season
    February to October
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to independence
    2-3 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    75 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    75 days

Common ground dove parents take care of their young until they are able to fly and forage for food themselves. Parents work together to build a safe nesting place for their eggs. They also take turns bringing food for hatchlings and protect their nests until their young are fledged.


Although annual survival rates are unknown, wild common ground doves have been reported to live up to 7.2 years. A study in Puerto Rico gave a mean interval between recaptures of their resident birds of 13.5 months. They also reported their longest recapture interval as being 3 years and 11 months old (Faaborg and Winters, 1979). Average lifespan depends on the geographic region an individual inhabits along with the resource availability within that region. (Faaborg and Winters, 1979; Hesse, et al., 2017; Kennard, 1975)

Causes of Mortality: In 58 banding recoveries, predation was shown to be responsible for 21% of mortality and half of this predation was by domestic cats. Accidents were responsible for 41% of mortality. the type of accidents included collisions with stationary objects like power lines and towers (responsible for 62% of accident mortality) and collisions with vehicles (responsible for the remaining 38%). Lastly, 17% of mortality was a result of shooting. One bird was shot in each of the following areas: Texas, Mexico, Louisiana, and the Bahamas. (Bowman, 2002)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    6 hours
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    7.2 hours


Common Ground Doves are seed eaters, spending the day searching for seeds on the ground. They also roost in trees and shrubs during the day or night. Common ground doves hold their tails slightly elevated and bob their heads when walking. They mostly make short, direct, low flights. These birds are accustomed to human contact, so they are not anxious when around humans and most of the time seem unbothered by them.

Male common ground doves compete with each other for food and mates. When they have to defend either of the two, they make cooing calls, reveal their chestnut-colored wing patches, and raise their wings. When vying for female attention, individual males will follow individual females to not lose sight of them. Males then offer food to the female they are courting and, when she finally accepts the regurgitated food, the partnership officially begins. The male bows to the female, flicks his wings and gives a guttural call before mating.

  • Key Behaviors
  • terricolous
  • motile

Home Range

Little is reported for exact home ranges, but common ground doves typically remain near the areas in which they were born.

Communication and Perception

Communication changes throughout the lifespan of common ground doves. When they are nestlings they use soft "cheep" sounds to indicate their hunger to their parents. Nestlings use louder "peep" sounds to show their excitement for food or when they are in distress. Adults use "woot woot woot" or "wroo" calls, which are repeated 4 to 5 times a minute. These calls are usually a courtship advertisement or they indicate an exchange of nests. These same calls are sometimes used when they are being flushed from their nests; the difference in this situation is a decrease in volume during the call. Common ground doves also have a guttural "squawk", which they use during their bow-cow courtship display. Their "wut-wut" call is given when they are threatened by another common ground dove. On a daily basis, common ground doves participate in “cooing” throughout the day at all hours. Lastly, they have vocal flight calls that serve as warning signals. (Bowman, 2002; Johnston, 1964; Nicholson, 1937)

Food Habits

Common ground doves often forage on bare and open grounds, where they can find seeds. They usually forage in pairs but in some occasions they may feed in groups of 6 to 20; this only occurs outside of breeding season. Their diet primarily consists of seeds from wild grasses and weeds. They feed off different seeds depending on the season and geographic location. However, the most common seeds they eat during all seasons include crowngrasses and doveweed. In winter they eat crowngrasses, panicgrasses, wood sorrels, prickly mallow, and doveweed. They also feed on insects, tiny berries, and occasionally even snail shells during the spring. The small amount of snails they consume during spring help with two things: it replenishes the calcium they lose to eggs and aids in the production of crop milk. (Bowman, 2002; Hesse, et al., 2017; Landers and Buckner, 1979; Nicholson, 1937; Passmore, 1984; Skutch, 1956)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • fruit


As much as they try to hide using shrub cover common ground doves experience predation. Nest predation can be extreme, causing the loss of more than half of all nests in a particular area. Fish crows (Corvus ossifragus) and rat snakes (genus Pantheropis) are major predators. Since they make nests on the ground, they are susceptible to terrestrial predators such as bobcats (Lynx rufus), raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (family Mephitidae), opossums (order Didelphimorphia), and domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) and cats (Felis catus). Since nestlings are so vulnerable, the selection of proper nest sites is crucial for the survival of young.

Raptors such as eagles, owls, hawks, falcons and others are major predators of common ground doves. In Florida the Florida scrub jays were observed flushing adult common ground doves off their nests and then eating their nests. When faced with nest predators, male common ground doves are responsible for defending their young. Males do this by raising their wings, ruffling their feathers, making harsh nasal sounds, and sometimes even striking predators with their wings. Common ground doves will also try to distract potential predators away from nests. They do this by pretending they have a wing injury and flying off once the predator redirects its attention from a nest site. Common ground doves are always wary of potential predation. This vigilance reduces the chance that they will be preyed on. For example, common ground doves go to drink water in large groups - the larger their group size, the longer they stay at water sources. (Bowman, 2002; Burger, 1992; Hailman, 1989; Mitchell, et al., 1996)

Ecosystem Roles

Common ground doves are seed eaters, thus they play an important role in their habitats as seed predators and seed dispersers. Their small size makes them an easy prey for several species. Common ground doves experience aerial predation from raptors as well as terrestrial predation from mammals and reptiles. Their eggs suffer from predation by terrestrial predators and birds such as fish crows (Corvus ossifragus). Common ground doves are also hosts for several parasites, including three species of lice (Columbicola columbae, Physconnelloides zenaidurae, and Physconnelloides johnsoni). In Baja California, louse flies (Microlynchia pusilla) were found on 4 of 164 captured common ground doves. Feather mites (Byersalges phyllophorus) were also found on them in the West Indes. (Bowman, 2002; Gaud and Barre, 1992; Peters, 1936; Prince, et al., 1999; Tella, et al., 2000)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • parasite
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are no known positive economic impacts of common ground doves.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known negative impacts of common ground doves on human health or economy.

Conservation Status

Although common ground doves are not federally listed, they are categorized as endangered in New Mexico and as a species of concern in Alabama. They are considered a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List and have no special status on the US Migratory Bird Act, the Federal List, CITES, or the State of Michigan List. There have been no conservation measures taken or brought into light, but studies in Puerto Rico indicated that an increase in food abundance along with a decrease in predators resulted in an increase of nest densities. (Bowman, 2002; Rivera-Milan, 1996; Rivera-Milan, 2001)


Yuzmel Romero (author), California State University, San Marcos, Tracey Brown (editor), California State University, San Marcos, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


to jointly display, usually with sounds in a highly coordinated fashion, at the same time as one other individual of the same species, often a mate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an organism that obtains nutrients from other organisms in a harmful way that doesn't cause immediate death


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


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Bowman, R., G. Woolfeden. 1997. Nesting chronology of the common ground-dove in Florida and Texas. Journal of Field Ornithology, 68/4: 580-589.

Burger, J. 1992. Drinking, Vigilance, and Group Size in White-Tipped Doves and Common Ground-Doves in Costa Rica. Wilson Bulletin, 104(2): 357-359.

Faaborg, J., J. Winters. 1979. Winter resident returns and longevity and weights of Puerto Rican birds. Bird-Banding, 50: 216-223.

Gaud, J., N. Barre. 1992. Falculiferidae (Astigmata, Perolichoidea) infesting Columbiformes in the West Indies. 1. Genera Atyeonia, Byersalges, Hyperaspidacarus, Nanolichus, Pterophagoides, and Pterophagus.. Acarologia, 33: 273-283.

Hailman, J. 1989. Common Ground-Dove's injury-feigning distracts Florida Scrub Jay. Auk, 106: 742.

Hesse, V., A. Lamoreaux, L. Arbanas, C. Hanks, B. Whitney, I. Arellano, L. Woff, J. McGowan. 2017. "Common Ground Dove" (On-line). All About Birds. Accessed March 17, 2020 at

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Kennard, J. 1975. Longevity records of North American birds. Bird-Banding, 46(1): 55-73.

Landers, L., J. Buckner. 1979. Ground dove use of young pine plantations. Wilson Bulletin, 91: 467-468.

Mitchell, M., L. Best, J. Gionfriddo. 1996. Avian Nest-Site Selection and Nesting Success in Two Florida Citrus Groves. The Wilson Bulletin, 108(3): 573-583.

Nicholson, D. 1937. Notes on the breeding of the ground dove in Florida.. Wilson Bulletin, 49: 101-114.

Passmore, M. 1984. Reproduction by juvenile common ground doves in South Texas. The Wilson Bulletin, 96/2: 241-248.

Peters, H. 1936. A list of external parasites from birds of the eastern part of the United States. Bird-Banding, 7: 9-27.

Prince, R., D. Clayton, R. Hellenthal. 1999. Taxonomic review of Physconelloides (Phthiraptera: Philopteridae) from the Columbiformes (Aves), including descriptions of three new species. Journal of Medical Entomology, 36: 195-206.

Rivera-Milan, F. 1996. Nest density and success of columbids in Puerto Rico. Condor, 98: 100-113.

Rivera-Milan, F. 2001. Transect surveys of columbid nests on Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra Islands. Condor, 103: 332-342.

Robertson, H. 1988. Relationship between body weight, egg weight, and clutch size in pigeons and doves (Aves: Columbiformes). Journal of Zoology (London), 215: 217-229.

Skutch, A. 1956. Life History of the Ruddy Ground Dove. Condor, 58: 188-205.

Tella, J., R. Rodriguez-Estrella, G. Blanco. 2000. Louse flies on birds in Baja California. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 36: 154-156.

Unitt, P. 1984. The birds of San Diego County. San Diego Society of Natural History Memoirs, 13: 1-276.

Wunderle, J. 1985. An ecological comparison of the avifaunas of Grenada and Tobago, West Indies. Wilson Bulletin, 97: 356-365.