Zenaida auriculataeared dove

Geographic Range

Eared doves (Zenaida auriculata) are native to the Caribbean and South America, ranging from Trinidad and other Caribbean Islands to southern Argentina. They are common to the Chaco region of Argentina and Paraguay, where they form semi-permanent breeding colonies, and to the semi-arid corridor between the coastal and Amazonian rainforests where they migrate to temporary breeding colonies in northeastern Brazil. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Goodwin and Gillmor, 1983; Murton and Bucher, 1974)


Eared doves live in arid to semi-arid scrubland ranging up to 4,400 m above sea level. They inhabit open grassland with some trees or woodland patches, although tropical forests are avoided. They breed in dense patches of vegetation, nesting under thorny bromeliads and under tree and shrub canopies. They are also very commonly found in urban and suburban parks, gardens, industrial areas and among agricultural areas where they are a major pest species. Adapting well to human activity, their range has expanded as a result of agricultural development of rainforest as well as urban expansion. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Murton and Bucher, 1974; Ranvaud and Freitas, 2001; Villegas and Garitano-zavala, 2010)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 4400 m
    0.00 to 14435.70 ft

Physical Description

Eared doves are a small dove species, similar to mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) in color and pattern. They range in length from 22 to 28 cm with a wingspan from 13.5 to 16.3 cm. They weigh between 120 to 180 g. Compared to mourning doves, eared doves have shorter, less graduated tails, heavier black bills, and plumage of yellow bronze metallic iridescence on the nape and sides of neck. They are generally gray or olive-brown with a pink to vinaceous breast and underbody. They have a bare orbital space beneath the eye and a rosy forehead and throat. They have black spots beneath the ear coverts and behind the eyes and on the outer scapulars. Their feet and tarsi are red or red-violet. Females are generally a duller brown with a reduced irridescent display on their neck. They also have less intense pink on their breasts and head. Juveniles are duller still than adult females, with narrow wedge-shaped streaks on the breasts and sides of the neck. They also have dull white streaks on the terminal ends of their wing coverts and scapulars. (Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Goodwin and Gillmor, 1983; Murton and Bucher, 1974; Naumburg and Kaempfer, 1933)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    120 to 180 g
    4.23 to 6.34 oz
  • Range length
    22 to 28 cm
    8.66 to 11.02 in
  • Range wingspan
    13.5 to 16.3 cm
    5.31 to 6.42 in


Eared doves form breeding pairs and raise their young together. In some areas they form large breeding colonies. Male eared doves have two courtship displays: the chase display and the nest-site display. The chase display entails the male running after the female while vigorously flapping his wings and periodically stopping to coo while inflating his neck. In the nest-site display, the male will crouch over the potential nest-site while raising his tail feathers, fanning them to display his tail pattern while inflating his neck and cooing. (Gibbs and Barnes, 2001)

Eared doves may breed colonially or in pairs, depending on the region. Throughout most of their range, eared doves nest in pairs. They usually nest above ground, but regionally they nest on the ground as well. Small nest platforms are built of twigs and lined with grasses in dense low shrubs or trees, usually 1 to 18 m above the ground. With a clutch size of usually 2 eggs, 52% of nests successfully rear at least one chick. Incubation lasts about 14 days and squabs fledge after 12 to 15 days. Hatchlings feed exclusively on crop milk and, as they mature, they are fed increasing amounts of seeds. As is common among Zenaida species, young birds quickly become independent, allowing the adults to breed again. (Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Murton and Bucher, 1974)

Eared dove breeding season is variable according to local food availability. They nest from March to August in Colombia, from April to November in Venezuela, from December to January and again from March to September in Trinidad. In Argentina they nest from April to August and in Brazil they nest throughout the year with a peak from April to June. Typically, breeding often followed the rainy season. But, in cultivated regions, such as in Argentina, nesting continues through most of the year. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001)

Breeding colonies are exclusively found in northeastern Brazil’s caatinga region and in cultivated regions of Argentina. Colonial breeding is only endemic to the caatinga region. Colonies average about 5 km long by 1 km wide, containing up to 5 million individuals. In the caatinga region, nests are always on the ground, under thorny scrub and beneath tree or shrub canopy. Internally, the colonies are synchronized, building nests rapidly and laying eggs between the first and second week on the site. The birds breed only once and leave the colony quickly. Entire colonies disperse within 60 days of forming, leaving behind juveniles and a few adults. (Bucher, 1982)

Colonial breeding is novel to Argentina, made possible by extensive cultivation of leguminous crops. Although Argentinian colonies are located in a similar habitat with similar predators, nests are almost exclusively made off the ground. It is thought that ground nesting is associated with the scarcity of food in Caatinga, requiring faster nest building and colonial dispersal. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Murton and Bucher, 1974)

  • Breeding interval
    Eared doves typically breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is geographically variable due to local food availability.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    14 days
  • Range fledging age
    12 to 15 days

Eared dove mated pairs cooperate to create nests, incubate, and protect their young to fledging, including creating crop milk to nourish their young after hatching.

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Information on eared dove lifespan is not reported in the literature. However, other Zenaida species typically live an average of less than two years because of high mortality in young, but may live up to nearly 20 years old.


Eared doves are terrestrial, conspicuous, and not shy. They are very adaptable to the presence of humans. They are commonly found in cities, suburbs, and agricultural regions, feeding in parks and gardens. They have been compared to rock pigeons (Columba livia) in North America. Roosting communally, they often reproduce in urban environments. Although they are usually found in pairs or small groups, they sometimes occur in large flocks. (Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Goodwin and Gillmor, 1983; Villegas and Garitano-zavala, 2010)

Eared doves make sporadic and seasonal movements throughout their range. They make significant migrations across the South American lowlands. In Patagonia they migrate north or concentrate in urban areas during the winter months. Enormous numbers of doves migrate to the breeding colonies in northeastern Brazil following the wet season. Although eared doves may form the “strongest migration yet known among native birds in South America” little is published on the subject. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Sick, 1968)

Home Range

Home range sizes of eared doves are not reported in the literature.

Communication and Perception

Eared doves produce a deep, growling, melancholic coo that begins with a loud pure note and becomes progressively deeper, with more growling. During courtship, eared doves exhibit a bowing display that is similar to other dove species. Their display consists of standing and cooing while inflating the neck and fanning their tail, revealing the tail pattern. The males may exhibit a flying display in which they fly to a high point and glide down in a circular pattern while inflating their neck. (Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Goodwin and Gillmor, 1983; Goodwin, 1966; Rozzi, 2010)

Food Habits

Eared doves exploit many available foods, but primarily feed on seeds picked up off the ground. They take advantage of cultivated grain crops and are often considered a pest species in agricultural areas. When in season, agricultural plants such as wheat, rice, sorghum, maize and soybeans may comprise the entirety of the diet. From December to March, when crops are being sown and are hence unavailable, eared doves rely on their native diet. In non-agricultural areas, eared doves rely on native seeds and grains. Small seeds of annual plants that can be collected from the ground compose the majority of their diet. Echinochloa colonum, a common savannah grass, and Croton jacobinensis are important seed food for these doves. Their diet may also be augmented by animal foods, such as caterpillars, insect pupae, aphids, and snails. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001; Goodwin and Gillmor, 1983; Murton and Bucher, 1974; Ranvaud and Freitas, 2001)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Because eared doves are a terrestrial species that often nest on or close to the ground, they are subject to a variety of predators. Adults are preyed upon by terrestrial predators, such as oncillas (Leopardus tigrinus), lesser grisons (Galictis cuja), tayras (Eira Barbara), big-eared opossums (Didelphis aurita), rufous-crested cacholotes (Pseidoseisura cristata), and various species of lizard and snake. Common egg and nestling predators are red-backed hawks (Buteo polyosoma), Chimango caracaras (Milvago chimango), opossums and possibly Guira cuckoos (Guira guira). Opossums are known to forage in breeding colonies for eggs, but heavy predation is countered by the massive numbers and synchronized breeding patterns in colonies. (Bucher, 1982; Murton and Bucher, 1974)

Ecosystem Roles

Eared doves are common or abundant in parts of their range and play important roles in seed predation, seed dispersal, and serve as important prey species for terrestrial and avian predators.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In Argentina and Brazil, adult birds are hunted and their eggs are collected for food. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Eared doves are viewed as a pest species in many parts of South America. Today, the bulk of their diet is composed of agricultural seeds and grains such as wheat and millet. In Colombia, eared doves are reported to cause significant economic damage to soy bean crops. Brazil reports similar problems with wheat and rice crops. Despite heated debates over control measures, many parts of South America spend significant sums of money on eradication projects each year. In addition to agricultural damage, eared doves are carrier species for St. Louis Encephalitis Virus (SLEV). Horses, cattle, and domestic birds have also been found to be naturally infected with SLEV in South America, SLEV is transmitted by mosquito and is potentially fatal to humans. An outbreak in 2005 resulted in 47 confirmed cases of human infection with 9 fatalities. (Almeida, 2008; Murton and Bucher, 1974; Ranvaud and Freitas, 2001)

Conservation Status

Eared doves are not threatened and are common throughout their South American range. They are extensively hunted in in breeding colonies in Argentina and Brazil, for food and crop protection. Following their arrival to the colonies, many people congregate to collect eggs and hunt the birds. Although the birds still congregate and form huge migratory flocks, there is evidence that colonies in north-eastern Brazil are dwindling. Reserves in Brazil have been proposed to preserve the massive migrations and colonies of eared doves. (Bucher, 1982; Gibbs and Barnes, 2001)


Daniel Houvener (author), Northern Michigan University, Alec Lindsay (editor), Northern Michigan University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


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.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

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


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


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


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.


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

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


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone


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


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


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

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Almeida, F. 2008. Eared dove (Zenaida auriculata, Columbidae) as host for St. Louis encephalitis virus (Flaviviridae, Flavivirus). Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, 8/4: 277.

Bucher, E. 1982. Colonial Breeding of the Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata) in Northeastern Brazil. Biotropica, 14/4: 255-261.

Gibbs, D., E. Barnes. 2001. Pigeons and doves: a guide to the pigeons and doves of the world. London: Gardners Books.

Goodwin, D. 1966. The Bowing Display of Pigeons in Reference to Phylogeny.. The Auk, 83/1: 117-123.

Goodwin, D., R. Gillmor. 1983. Pigeons and doves of the world. Ithaca, New York: British Museum (Natural History).

Murton, R., E. Bucher. 1974. The Ecology of the Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata) in Argentina.. The Condor, 76/1: 80-88.

Naumburg, E., E. Kaempfer. 1933. A study of Zenaida auriculata. American Museum novitates, 1: 1.

Ranvaud, R., K. Freitas. 2001. Diet of Eared Doves (Zenaida auriculata, Aves, Columbidae) in a sugar-cane colony in South-eastern Brazil.. Brazilian Journal of Biology, 61/4: 651-660.

Rozzi, R. 2010. Multi-Ethnic Bird Guide of the Subantarctic Forests of South America. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press.

Sick, H. 1968. Vogelwanderungen im kontinentalen Südamerika.. Vogelwarte, 24: 217-243.

Villegas, M., A. Garitano-zavala. 2010. Bird community responses to different urban conditions in La Paz, Bolivia.. Urban Ecosystems, 13/3: 375-391.