Zenaida asiaticawhite-winged dove

Geographic Range

White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica) are semi-tropical doves whose native range extends from the southwestern U.S. through Mexico and Central America, into parts of western South America, and to some Caribbean islands. They are also residents in Florida, where they were introduced. The majority of White-winged Doves are seasonally migratory. They overwinter in Mexico and Central America and come to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico in April to breed, departing again in September. Some will overwinter in their breeding range, especially in residential areas where food remains available. In the southern parts of their range, they are year-round residents. There are twelve subspecies of White-winged Doves. Western or Desert White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica mearnsii) and Eastern White-winged Doves (Zenaida asiatica asiatica) are the most numerous and widely distributed subspecies.

(Ehrlich 1988, George et al. 1994, Rappole 2000, Stiles and Skutch 1989)


White-winged Doves inhabit brushlands and woodlands or desert scrub and cacti, as well as agricultural fields and residential areas throughout their range. Eastern migratory populations breed in the semi-tropical, thorny woodlands in the states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, and Veracruz in Mexico and along the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, USA. They also nest extensively in citrus orchards, accounting in some years for 50-90% of all nesting activity. In Texas, nesting colonies and individuals also rely on residential shade and ornamental trees as nest sites from which they utilize bird feeders and bird baths in town and take feeding forays into nearby agricultural fields. Western White-winged Doves breed in regions of desert scrub and cacti or riparian woodlands throughout Sonora and Baja California in Mexico, and in southeastern Nevada and California, southern Arizona, and western New Mexico, USA. They also utilize citrus groves and residential areas as nesting sites and agricultural fields for feeding grounds. When they migrate south for winter, both populations join resident White-winged Doves in semi-arid regions of thornscrub, deciduous dry forest, cacti forest, savannah, and agricultural and riparian areas with scattered trees.

(George et al. 1994, Small 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989)

Physical Description

White-winged Doves are large, pigeon-like doves. Adult birds are brownish-gray above and gray below, with distinct white wing markings found in no other New World dove. When perched with wings folded, the white wing bars form a narrow (1cm wide) margin along the leading and lower edges of the wings. In flight, they appear as brilliant white crescents framing the body on the upper surface of each wing. Both male and female adults also have a ring of blue, featherless skin around each eye, red irises, a patch of black feathers or “ear spot” beneath and behind the eye, and red or pinkish-red legs and feet. Males and females are difficult to differentiate in the field, although males tend to be slightly larger and a bit more colorful than females, with a hint of purple on the neck and head, and a bolder black ear spot. Juveniles are more gray-brown than adults. They have no blue eye ring, their irises are black, and their legs and feet are pink or brownish-pink.

White-winged Doves are often compared to Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura), but Mourning Doves are slightly smaller, with smaller heads and bills. Additionally, Mourning Doves’ tails are pointed instead of squared, and they lack the distinct bright wing patches or white tail tips of White-winged Doves.

(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, Kaufman 2000, Oberholser 1974)

  • Average mass
    170 g
    5.99 oz
  • Average mass
    140 g
    4.93 oz
  • Average length
    30 cm
    11.81 in
  • Average wingspan
    50 cm
    19.69 in


Once males have established nesting territories, they attract a mate with cooing and visual displays and aggressively defend the territory from other males, sparring with wing-slaps if necessary. If an interested female approaches, males perform precopulation behaviors such as additional cooing, wing and tail fanning, bowing, and mutual preening.

White-winged Doves arrive in their northern breeding grounds in late April. Western White-winged Doves will nest as isolated pairs in the southwest deserts, whereas Eastern White-winged Doves commonly nest in large colonies. Males seek out and defend nesting territories in woody habitat within flying distance of food and water. Banding of desert-nesting birds has shown that they will regularly fly up to 8 km from the nest site to a water source. Urban White-winged Doves nesting in San Antonio, Texas have been observed taking daily feeding forays to farms 5-20 km from their nest sites.

After copulation, the female chooses a nest site within the male’s territory, generally at forking tree branches or even atop abandoned nests of other birds. Over 2-5 days, she builds a relatively flimsy nest with grasses, twigs, weed stems and other nesting materials brought to her by her mate. Females usually lay two cream to white, unmarked eggs, and incubation begins before the second egg is laid. Both parents incubate the eggs in regular shifts; males are generally on the nest from mid-morning until mid-afternoon, and females from mid-afternoon through mid-morning.

Incubation lasts about 14 days, and the older chick hatches about a day earlier than its sibling. For the first four days of life, White-winged Dove parents feed their chicks “crop milk”, a protein- and fat-rich secretion of the esophageal lining that is chemically similar to mammalian milk. This diet is then supplemented with regurgitated seeds, and by the second week, the chicks’ diet is mostly composed of seeds. The chicks grow quickly and can leave the nest within 13-16 days of hatching. The male continues to feed the young near the nest until they are about four weeks old, while the female may start a new clutch as early as three days following the fledging, or loss, of the first clutch. Research in Texas has shown that on average, Eastern White-winged Doves successfully fledge about 2.2 chicks in a breeding season. By early August, nesting is over, and the adults and young doves aggregate in large feeding flocks where food is available. They move between nightly roost sites and daily foraging grounds until mid to late September, when they begin to migrate south.

(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, Ehrlich 1988, George et al. 1994, Goodwin 1977)

  • Breeding season
    spring, through August
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    14 days
  • Average time to hatching
    13 days
  • Average fledging age
    14.5 days



Communication and Perception

Food Habits

White-winged Doves feed on a variety of seeds, grain, and fruit that vary depending on their range and seasonal availability. They consume seeds and fruits of wild trees, grasses, and herbaceous plants, as well as those of ornamental cultivars. Domestic grain crops including sunflower, barley, sesame, sorghum, wheat, corn, and safflower are also an important food source in many parts of White-winged Dove’s range. To supplement their seed-based diet, White-winged Doves will also ingest shells of small snails and other gastropods, or bits of bone extracted from raptor pellets or mammal feces. The bones and shell are an important source of calcium for the doves, necessary for eggshell and crop milk production.

Western White-winged Doves’ dietary preferences lead them to migrate into the Sonoran Desert to breed during the hottest and driest time of the year. Their paradoxical arrival at such a harsh season is tied to the flowering and fruiting of columnar cacti such as the saguaro (Carnegia gigantea). Flower pollen and nectar, and subsequent fruits and seeds, provide virtually all the needed food and moisture required by desert White-winged Doves from May to mid-July. This food supply is consistently dependable, for even in drought years, columnar cacti flower abundantly in the Sonoran Desert. Wolf and Martinez del Rio performed isotopic analysis of Western White-winged Dove tissues during saguaro flowering and fruiting season and found that most of the carbon and water in the birds’ bodies was derived from saguaros. This research demonstrates a strong ecological association between saguaros and desert White-winged Doves and illustrates why western populations’ original range was closely tied to that of the saguaro cactus. With the arrival of agriculture in southwestern North America, Western White-winged Doves’ range has expanded into areas beyond the saguaro’s distribution in response to newly available food resources.

(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, George et al. 1994, Haughey 1986, Waggerman 1977, Wolf and Martinez del Rio 2000)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • pollen


White-winged Doves are hunted by a variety of predators. Raptors take young and adults during nesting season, but take of eggs and nestlings by grackles, jays, and crows is a more significant source of White-winged Dove predation. Great-tailed Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus) and Mexican Crows (Corvis imparatus) are the highest cause of White-winged Dove mortality in eastern breeding areas where they take eggs and nestlings to feed to their own broods. Mammals and reptiles will also take young and eggs from nests, but they are principle predators on the ground. When aware of predators, nesting doves rarely perform distraction displays. More often, they readily flee from their nests in explosive flight that can result in eggs or chicks being ejected from the nest. Terrestrial predators consume these young. Finally, ants will sometimes swarm and eat hatching or newly-emerged chicks.

(Blankinship 1966 and 1970, Cottam and Trefethen 1968, Dunks 1969, Ehrlich 1988)

Ecosystem Roles

Western White-winged Doves are important pollinators of the saguaro cactus. This behavior serves them well since they also feed on saguaro fruits and seeds. Although they are primary seed consumers, White-winged Doves also serve as dispersers of saguaro seeds. Some of the seeds the doves regurgitate and feed to their young fall to the ground, concentrating seeds beneath the nest. Since saguaro seedlings require shade to become successfully established, the doves may be inadvertently placing saguaro seeds in some of the most viable spots for development beneath their nest trees.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

White-winged Doves are the second most numerous migratory game bird species in North America (Mourning Doves are the first). In 1968, Cottam and Trefethen reported that hunting tourism during the two week hunting season in September brought an estimated $3 to $7.5 million annually to the local economy of Texas’ Lower Rio Grande Valley. Although tighter hunting regulations in recent years have limited dove take, White-winged Dove hunting continues to contribute to the economies of Texas, Arizona, and Tamaulipas states, where hunters from throughout North America gather each year for dove season.

(Cottam and Trefethen 1968)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

White-winged Doves have a negative impact on the agricultural economies within their range. They do not wait for harvest or ripe grain to fall, but instead perch upon stalks of sunflower or sorghum and eat the developing seeds. They aggregate in large flocks of sometimes thousands of birds, descend upon a single field of grain, and decimate it. For this reason they are known as “la plaga” (the plague) among many farmers in Mexico.

(Cottam and Trefethen 1968, George et al. 1994)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

In the early 1900’s, White-winged Dove breeding populations increased as irrigation and grain farming brought new sources of food and water to their historic range. As agricultural development and urban development began to eliminate traditional native brush nesting areas, doves shifted to nesting in citrus orchards. As a result of these habitat modifications, White-winged Dove populations have fluctuated throughout much of their range in response to changing nesting and feeding conditions. For example, after freezes, the citrus orchards that serve as major nest sites for eastern doves are unusable for 5-8 years until branches grow back to enough to provide sufficient cover. Dove populations decline with the lack of nest sites, then increase as they become available again. Likewise, increases or decreases in dove numbers have often been linked to availability of agricultural grain crops. Since the 1960’s, the overriding trend amid these fluctuations has been a steady decline in Eastern and Western White-winged Dove populations on their traditional breeding grounds.

Because it is an important game species, management of the White-winged Dove is an issue of concern. Recommendations for conservation and management include restoration and conservation of critical breeding habitats. State and federal wildlife agencies in Texas are attempting to restore habitat for White-winged Doves and other wildlife by planting native vegetation on former cropland along the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas. In Tamaulipas, the brushy native vegetation used by the largest colony of nesting White-winged Doves was recently set aside as a sanctuary by the Mexican government. More of this type of protection is needed in additional breeding areas as well as in the non-breeding areas of southern Mexico and Central America where the doves spend the other half of the year.

(Blankinship 1966, Brown 1989, Burkepile et al. 1998, Fulbricht 1996, George et al. 1994)

Other Comments

Doves and pigeons are known carriers of the avian parasite Trichomonas gallinae and as a result, can spread the avian disease trichomoniasis. Virulent strains of the disease can cause severe lesions that can block the mouth and pharynx of infected birds, resulting in starvation or infection. Outbreaks of virulent strains have been responsible for Mourning Dove mortality, but no White-winged Doves deaths have been documented from trichomoniasis. White-winged Doves have been shown to be important carriers of a virulent strains of T. gallinae, leading researchers to speculate that White-winged Doves may spread the disease to Mourning Doves. Research to this point has not confirmed this concern.

Trichomoniasis is spread, however, to dove-eating raptors such as Cooper’s Hawks (Accipiter cooperi), where it contributes to nestling mortality among populations that utilize doves as a primary food source. This is the case among urban populations of Cooper’s Hawks in Tucson, where higher incidences of trichomoniasis among urban populations are linked to prey selection. No research has been done on the affects of trichomoniasis on White-winged Dove avian nest predators.

(Boal et al. 1998, Conti et al 1985, Stabler 1954 and 1961)


Robin Kropp (author), University of Arizona, Jorge Schondube (editor), University of Arizona.



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


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


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.

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


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


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


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.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


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


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


Blankinship, D. 1966. The relationships of white-winged dove production to control of great-tailed grackles in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Trans. North Am. Wildl. And Nat. Resour. Conf., 31: 45-58.

Blankinship, D. 1970. White-winged dove nesting colonies in northeastern Mexico. Trans. North Am. Wildl. And Nat. Resour. Conf., 35: 171-182.

Boal, C., R. Mannan, K. Hudelson. 1998. Trichomoniasis in Cooper’s Hawks from Arizona. J. Wildl. Diseases., 34(3): 590-593.

Brown, D. 1989. Arizona game birds. Tucson, Arizona: The University of Arizona Press.

Burkepile, N., D. Hewitt, E. Hellgren, C. Pruett, M. Small. 1998. "Current Research of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, July 1, 1997 to June 30, 1998." (On-line). Accessed April 23, 2002 at www.ckwri.tamuk.edu/PDF/CR97-98.

Conti, J., R. Frohlich, D. Forrester. 1985. Experimental transfer of Trichomonas gallinae (Rivolta, 1878) from white-winged doves to mourning doves. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 21(3): 229-232.

Cottam, C., J. Trefethen. 1968. Whitewings: the life history, status, and management of the white-winged dove. Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co..

Dunks, J. 1969. Whitewings vs. grackles. Texas Parks and Wildl., 27(7): 2-5.

Ehrlich, P. 1988. A Birder’s Handbook: a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Fulbricht, T., K. Flenniken, G. Waggerman. 1996. Methods of Enhancing Germination of Anacua Seeds. Journal of Range Management, 39(5): 450-453.

George, R., R. Tomlinson, R. Engel-Wilson, G. Waggerman, A. Spratt. 1994. White-winged Dove. Pp. 29-50 in T Tacha, C Braun, eds. Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Management in North America. Lawrence, Kansas: Allen Press.

Goodwin, D. 1977. Pigeons and doves of the world. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Haughy, R. 1986. Diet of desert nesting western white-winged doves. M.S. Thesis.. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona State University.

Kaufman, K. 2000. Birds of North America, a new focus on the field.. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co..

McGregor, S., S. Alcorn, G. Olin. 1962. Pollination and pollinating agents of the saguaro. Ecology, 43: 260-267.

Oberholser, H. 1974. The bird life of Texas. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Olin, G., S. Alcorn, J. Alcorn. 1989. Dispersal of viable saguaro seeds by white-winged doves, (Zenaida asiatica). Southwestern naturalist, 34(2): 281-284.

Rappole, J. 2000. Birds of the Southwest. College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press.

Small, M., R. Hilsenbeck, J. Scuddy. 1989. Resource utilization and nesting ecology of the white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) in central Trans-Pecos, Texas. Texas J. Agric. And Nat. Resour., 3: 37-38.

Stabler, R. 1961. A parasitological survey of fifty-one eastern white-winged doves. J. Parasitology, 47: 309-311.

Stabler, R. 1954. Trichomonas gallinae, a review. Experimental Parasitology, 3: 368-402.

Stiles, F., A. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Turner, R., S. Alcorn, G. Olin. 1966. The influence of shade, water, and soil on saguaro seedling establishment. Bot. Gazette, 127: 95-102.

Waggerman, G., S. Sorola. 1977. Whitewings in winter. Texas Parks and Wildl., 35(10): 6-9.

Wolf, B., C. Martinez del Rio. 2000. Use of saguaro fruit by white-winged doves: isotopic evidence of a tight ecological association. Oecologia, 124: 536-543.