Zenaida auritazenaida dove

Geographic Range

Zenaida doves (Zenaida aurita) are found throughout the Neotropical region. They are more specifically limited to the Caribbean, westward to the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Their range extends far west as the Yucatan Peninsula, eastward throughout the Caribbean and as far east as Barbados. The doves also inhabit as far north as the southern coast of Florida and as far south as the island of St. George’s. Of those Caribbean islands, Zenaida doves are the most abundant in Puerto Rico. These doves are residents in these areas all year round. (Rivera-Milan, 1999; Rivera-Milan and Schaffner, 2002; Wiley, 1991)


Zenaida doves’ habitat includes fields, forests, and dense vegetation areas, at elevations from sea level to 305 m. These areas can be suburban or urban areas. Zenaida doves are most commonly found in areas that are lower in elevation.

Across their range, the doves have a variety of nesting locations that include grass, bushes, rock overhangs, and trees. In the presence of predators that hunt on the ground, they choose to nest above the ground in trees, usually about 2.2-3.7 m off the ground. In the absence of these predators, Zenaida doves choose to build their nests in grasses or at the base of bushes. Nests are built out of twigs, vines, and grass stems. (Burger, et al., 1989a; Nellis, et al., 1984; Rivera-Milan, 1999; Rivera-Milan and Schaffner, 2002; Wiley, 1991)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 305 m
    0.00 to 1000.66 ft

Physical Description

Zenaida doves have burgundy breasts and bellies and brown mantles with red-orange hues on their head and necks. They have black upper wing and ear coverts with white tips on their tail feathers and outer secondaries. Instead of 14 retrices, compared to other doves, Zenaida doves only have 12. These doves also lack a pointed, long tail. Male Zenaida doves are larger than females, are more brightly colored, and contain a purple haze on the malar area. Adult male doves range around 149-180 g, while females weigh 120-145 g. The tail lengths are 77-99 mm in males and 60-98 mm in females. The measurements of their culmen are 8.0-8.9 for females and 8.8-8.9 for males. Zenaida doves' wingspans range from 360-410 mm and are they are 28-30.5 cm long.

Zenaida dove eggs weigh 7.5-8.0 g, range in length 29-30 mm, and have a width of 21-22 mm. Once the eggs are hatched, the chicks weight ranges from 8.1-8.7 g, and have a daily weight increase of 18.3%. The chicks are born with dense down feathers and are mostly ivory colored with hints of grey charcoal. (Peters, 1934; Wiley, 1991)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    120 to 180 g
    4.23 to 6.34 oz
  • Range length
    28 to 30.5 cm
    11.02 to 12.01 in
  • Range wingspan
    360 to 410 mm
    14.17 to 16.14 in


Zenaida doves are monogamous, and they pair together for life. Males attract females by a courtship display. Typically, during morning hours, males begin with an aerial display. Males ascend in the air and flap their wings, which makes a loud slapping sound. At the climax of their climb, they will turn and tilt from side to side while they descend to their perch. Male Zenaida doves also make displays on the ground called “driving” (Wiley, 1991), described as males rapidly walking around females while jerking their heads back and forth. While this is taking place, the females will have their necks outstretched. Driving often ends with the females taking off to perch, while the males follow behind. Once perched, they preen themselves and one another; females groom the males’ head, chest, and neck. Finally, males mount females while making cloacal contact. Copulations last typically 3-9 seconds.

Males are the primary nest builders and select nest sites. They will construct the foundation and once completed, males will deliver materials to the females for them to finish the building of the nest. The nests take 3 to 7 days to complete and often range 15-400 m apart from other Zenaida doves’ nests. (Cezilly and Keddar, 2012; Quinard and Cézilly, 2012; Wiley, 1991)

There are two breeding seasons for Zenaida doves: March-June and October-January. Zenaida doves breed through cloacal contact. During these breeding seasons, the doves can have 1-4 broods per year that contain 1-3 eggs apiece. When eggs are laid, they weigh 7.5-8.0 g each and incubate for 13-15 days. Zenaida dove chicks weigh 8.1-8.7 g once hatched. Up until about day 5, the chicks aren’t very strong, and the parents initiate feedings and regurgitate food to the chicks. Around day 7 after hatching, chicks were initiating feedings and started to flap their wings. Across days 10-12, chicks start “peeting,” a vocalization that begs for food. The fledging of Zenaida doves takes place on day 14 (range 11-15 d). Male doves reach sexual maturity around 10 months and female doves reach it around 11 months. Time to independence has not been reported, but it is expected to coincide with fledging. (Nellis, et al., 1984; Wiley, 1991)

  • Breeding interval
    Zenaida doves have 1 to 4 broods per year
  • Breeding season
    2 breeding periods: March-June and October-January
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 3
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 15 days
  • Range fledging age
    11 to 15 days
  • Average fledging age
    14 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    11 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10 months

Both sexes of Zenaida doves are active in the chicks’ care. During the incubation period, male and female doves take turns on the nest and never leave it unattended. Wiley (1991) reported that females stayed on the nests for 15.4-16.8 hours a day, while males only stay on 7.2-8.4 hours. Males are responsible for removal of eggshells which has been shown to deter predators. Both parents also perform distraction displays, like faking a broken wing, to lure predators away from the nests.

Although both sexes feed the young, females have more involvement than males. Females’ feeding periods lasts from 5-240 s while males’ feeding is less, from 10-180 s. To feed their chicks, parents will brush their bill signaling that they have food and then will regurgitate it in the chicks’ mouths. Around days 8-10 after hatching, parents’ nest attendance starts to decrease. At day 14 fledging takes place and the chicks presumably become independent. (Wiley, 1991)


Maximum longevity is not reported for Zenaida doves, but the expected lifespan is estimated to be 6.3 years. Others in the same genus, mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) and white-winged doves (Zenaida asiatica) are reported to live 25-31.3 years in the wild. Zenaida doves are not kept in captivity. Reasons for early mortality could be possible due to predation, which happens more in chicks and eggs, and hunting. (AnAge, 2017; USGS Bird Banding Lab, 2021)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    6.3 years


Zenaida doves are diurnal and do not migrate for the winter. They defend their territory year-round from predators and other doves in their territory. They perform a distraction display when the nest contains chicks or eggs. Such displays contain faking an injured wing or just flapping the ground.

This will attract predators away from the nests and towards the “injured” dove, which will then be able to fly away from any terrestrial predators. Besides predators, Zenaida doves will be aggressive towards other intruding doves. This aggressive behavior includes striking their opponent with their wing to protect their territory and claim dominance. Males are more likely to act aggressively, but both sexes will participate. At lower densities, these doves were more aggressive in fighting over food than when at high densities and provisioned food. In the latter event, these doves exhibited communal feeding.

Zenaida doves show stretch sequences that involve them outstretching their wings and fanning their tail. These doves also have walks like that consist of a tail “flip” rather than lifting it up when they land. Zenaida doves have two distinct calls of communication: the nesting and advertisement call. Nesting calls are usually given as a signal of presence during nest exchanges. Advertisement calls are more of their song-like call and can often be used before or after sexual displays. During sexual displays, males will make aerial displays and displays on the ground by walking around the female. (Burger, et al., 1989a; Carlier and Lefebvre, 1996; Cezilly and Keddar, 2012; Quinard and Cézilly, 2012; Sol, et al., 2005; Wiley, 1991)

Home Range

Zenaida doves travel up to 50 m away from the nest during breeding season. They are not known to defend their territory although they do distract predators away from their nest. (Burger, et al., 1989a)

Communication and Perception

Zenaida doves have 2 distinct calls of communication, the nesting call and the advertisement call. The nesting call is used between the doves during nest exchanges, when they arrive and are mounting onto the nest. This call is usually given by males, who are much louder, to alert females that they have arrived and to announce their presence. The nest call could also be used in the nest to alert the other to come back. The duration of the nest call is 1.26-1.82 s. Advertisement calls by males are more song-like and has a “coo” sound. Used to announce territory, males may also use it during or after a sexual display. These calls have a duration of about 3.32 s. The body mass of the doves has an effect on call frequency. For example, a 159 g dove would display a frequency range of 484 to 645 Hz.

Chicks have their own sound called peeting, which is used to alert adults that they want food.

Not only can they communicate through their calls, but also Zenaida doves communicate visually. When leaving nests, they perform distraction displays that involve elongating their wings and thrashing around the ground. They use these to distract predators away from nests with eggs or chicks. These types of distraction displays are more common with Zenaida doves that nest above ground level. They also use tactile communication by preening one another during their mating process. (Burger, et al., 1989a; Burger, et al., 1989b; Tubaro and Mahler, 1998; Wiley, 1991)

Food Habits

Zenaida doves of both sexes are mainly granivorous, and often feed mostly on different seeds, grass, and fruit. Depending on the exact location that the doves reside in, most commonly their diets consist of local seeds or various small fruits and berries in those locations. Acosta and Berovides (1982) studied dove diets in western Cuba. Here they reported that 88.4% of their diet, by volume, was wild rice (Oryza sativa). The remainder of their diets there was grasses and legumes. If the doves nest in a more urbanized location, compared to the more rural areas, they more often consume food scraps left by humans. Occasionally, the doves will feed on small insects such as ants, and flies. They will also eat worms.

Zenaida doves hydrate themselves by drinking water from sources located on the ground. Most of the foraging is done individually or in pairs unless it there is a food source largely available in a specific area. Young chicks’ diets consist of regurgitated food from parents. (Acosta and Berovides, 1982; Carlier and Lefebvre, 2010; Cezilly and Keddar, 2012; Dolman, et al., 1996; Wiley, 1991)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Predators of Zenaida doves includes humans (Homo sapiens), who hunt them for sport. In Puerto Rico, the hunting season is from September to November.

Predators on mainland Puerto Rico include small Indian mongeese (Herpestes auropunctatus) and pearly-eyed thrashers (Margarops fuscatus). To protect themselves from land predators, Zenaida doves avoid nesting on the ground. Zenaida dove eggs and chicks have more predators than adult doves. The main predators to the young doves are Puerto Rican racers (Alsophis portoricensis), blue land crabs (Cardisoma guanhumi), rock crabs (Grapsus grapsus), and soldier crabs (Coenobita clypeata). Fire ants (Solenopsis geminata), laughing gulls (Larus atricilla), black-crowned night-herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), yellow-crowned night herons (Nyctanassa violacea), and magnificent frigatebirds (Fregata magnificens) also feed on young and eggs. To distract predators away from their nest, Zenaida doves will often perform distraction displays, like faking an injured wing. (Nellis, et al., 1984; Rivera-Milan, 1999; Rivera-Milan and Schaffner, 2002; Wiley, 1991)

Ecosystem Roles

Zenaida doves are mostly herbivores that eat grasses, seeds, and fruits. Typical predators may include mongeese, humans, and larger birds. The most common parasite found is warble flies (Philornis pici). Chicks that have been infected with these parasites have been known to have a survival rate of 81% after infestation. (Wiley, 1991)

Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Zenaida doves have a positive economic impact on humans, as hunters utilize them for food. However, daily bag limits of 10 doves are set to sustain populations. These bag limits have varied over the years. They also have a positive impact for birdwatchers. (Nellis, et al., 1984; Wiley, 1991)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Zenaida doves have no reported negative economic impacts on humans. (Wiley, 1991)

Conservation Status

Zenaida doves are listed as a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. They have no special status on the US federal list, CITES, the state of Michigan, and US Migratory Bird Act.

Zenaida doves are hunted for food and sport. The hunting season runs from September to November. In Puerto Rico, there is a daily bag limit of 10 doves set in place so that populations don’t significantly decrease.

There are not any official conservation efforts set in place. However, recommended actions include setting hunting seasons in different parts of the year that exclude the breeding seasons. Another is to monitor and study breeding seasons more often, so that we have the latest information on nest success, production, and habitat preferences. (BirdLife International, 2020; Rivera-Milan and Schaffner, 2002; Wiley, 1991)


Hailee Shifflett (author), Radford University, Sierra Felty (editor), Radford University, Bianca Plowman (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Victoria Raulerson (editor), Radford University, Christopher Wozniak (editor), Radford University, Genevieve Barnett (editor), Colorado State University.



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.

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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.


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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

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

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


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.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

induced ovulation

ovulation is stimulated by the act of copulation (does not occur spontaneously)


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.


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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


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


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


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


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


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


uses sight to communicate


Acosta, M., V. Berovides. 1982. Ecología trofica de las palomas del genero Zenaida en el sur de Pinar del Rio. Ciencias Biologicas [Cuba], 7: 113-123.

AnAge, 2017. "AnAge: The Animal Ageing and Longevity Database" (On-line). Accessed March 29, 2022 at https://genomics.senescence.info/species/query.php?search=Zenaida.

BirdLife International, 2020. "Zenaida aurita" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22690750A163499479. Accessed March 29, 2022 at https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22690750A163499479.en.

Boogert, N., K. Monceau, L. Lefebvre. 2010. A field test of behavioural flexibility in Zenaida doves (Zenaida aurita). Behavioural Processes, 85/2: 135-141.

Burger, J., M. Gochfeld, D. Gochfeld, J. Saliva. 1989. Nest site selection in Zenaida dove (Zenaida aurita) in Puerto Rico. Biotropica, 21/3: 244-249.

Burger, J., M. Gochfeld, J. Saliva, D. Gochfeld, D. Gochfeld, H. Morales. 1989. Antipredator behavior in nesting Zenaida doves (Zenaida aurita): Parental investment or offspring vulnerability. Behaviour, 111/1-4: 129-143.

Carlier, P., L. Lefebvre. 1996. Differences in individual learning between group-foraging and territorial Zenaida doves. Behaviour, 133/15: 1197-1207.

Carlier, P., L. Lefebvre. 2010. Ecological differences in social learning between adjacent, mixing, populations of Zenaida doves. Ethology, 103/9: 772-784.

Cezilly, F., I. Keddar. 2012. Vigilance and food intake rate in paired and solitary Zenaida doves Zenaida aurita. Ibis, 154: 161-166.

Dolman, C., J. Templeton, L. Lefebvre. 1996. Mode of foraging is related to tutor preference in Zenaida aurita. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 110/1: 45-54.

Nellis, D., R. Dewey, M. Hewitt, S. Imsand, R. Philibosian, J. Yntema. 1984. Population status of Zenaida doves and other columbids in the Virgin Islands. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 48/3: 889-894.

Peters, J. 1934. The classification of some American pigeons. The Condor, 36/5: 213-215.

Quinard, A., F. Cézilly. 2012. Sex roles during conspecific territorial defence in the Zenaida dove, Zenaida aurita. Animal Behaviour, 83: 47-54.

Rivera-Milan, F. 1999. Population dynamics of Zenaida doves in Cidra, Puerto Rico. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 63/1: 232-244.

Rivera-Milan, F., F. Schaffner. 2002. Demography of Zenaida doves on Cayo Del Agua, Culebra, Puerto Rico. The Condor, 104/3: 587-597.

Sol, D., M. Elie, M. Marcoux, E. Chrostovsky, C. Porcher, L. Lefebvre. 2005. Ecological mechanisms of a resource polymorphism in Zenaida doves of Barbados. Ecology, 86/9: 2397-2407.

Tubaro, P., B. Mahler. 1998. Acoustic frequencies and body mass in New World doves. The Condor, 100/1: 54-61.

USGS Bird Banding Lab, 2021. "Longevity Records Of North American Birds. Version 2021.1" (On-line). Accessed March 29, 2022 at https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/longevity/Longevity_main.cfm.

Wiley, J. 1991. Ecology and behaviour of the Zenaida dove. Ornitologia Neotropical, 2/2: 49-75.