The Common Ground-Dove is a very small, mostly sedentary dove of open, shrubby habitats from the southernmost U.S. to the south. Common Ground-Dove pairs mate for life, and can nest in almost any month of the year.
Common Ground-Doves have a number of displays involving the position of their wings. These displays can serve as a warning, as a courtship ritual, or as a territorial claim. Territories are maintained year-round, and it is therefore uncommon to see flocks of Common-Ground-Doves.
On this page
Description of the Common Ground-Dove
The Common Ground-Dove is a very small, chunky dove with grayish upperparts, brownish to blackish spots on the wings, a scaled head and breast, and a black-tipped red bill. In flight, shows reddish underwings and primaries, and black tail corners.
Males have bolder scaling and darker spots on the wings. Length: 7 in. Wingspan: 10 in.
The scaling on females is fainter, and the wing spots tend toward brown rather than black.
Seasonal change in appearance
Similar to adult females.
Woodlands edges, roadsides, and farms.
Common Ground-Doves eat primarily seeds, waste grain, and occasionally fruits.
Forages on the ground in pairs or small flocks.
Common Ground-Doves are found in southernmost parts of the U.S., and south to parts of South America. Its U.S. population appears stable to slightly declining.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Common Ground-Dove.
The Common Ground-Dove is the smallest dove in North America.
Western birds are paler, while eastern birds have a pinkish tint to the underparts and folded wings.
Doves symbolize many things, but most people know them as symbols of peace.
The song is a series of coos, often repeated for long intervals.
Very rare in the U.S., Ruddy Ground-Doves lack the scaled appearance.
Inca Doves are scaled above as well as below and have longer tails.
The nest is a flimsy twig platform, placed on the ground or in a tree or shrub.
Number: Usually lay 2 eggs.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 12-14 days, and leave the nest in another 11-13 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Common Ground-Dove
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Common Ground-Dove – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
COLUMBIGALLINA PASSERINA PASSERINA (Linneaus)
The gentle little ground dove is one of the most familiar and confiding dooryard birds in Florida, where it may be seen walking briskly about on its short legs, with a graceful nodding motion of its head, about the houses, gardens, and more quiet streets in nearly every village. It is very tame and will allow a close approach, but, if too hard pressed, it will flit away to the nearest cover with a conspicuous flash of reddish brown in its wings. Besides being very domestic in its habits and attached to the vicinity of human dwellings, it is fond of sandy, cultivated lands, old weedy fields, cottonfields, pea patches, Orange groves, and the borders of woods.
Its range extends northward into Georgia and South Carolina, mainly in the coastal counties. Referring to Chatham County, Ga., W. J. Erichsen (1920) says:
A characteristic bird of the Lower Austral zone, this species, while formerly abundant, is now quite uncommon. Its decrease during the past five years has been rapid and the few that now breed are restricted to three or four widely separated localities.
During the period when it was abundant and generally dispersed in the county, I had many opportunities to observe its habits, and while it was to be met with in equal abundance In country of greatly diverse character, its preferred haunts were sparsely timbered woodland containing low and dense undergrowth.
This species is non-migratory, passing its entire life In or very near the locality at which It was hatched. So attached to certain localities does it become that even if the undergrowth is cleared and the land cultivated the bird remains, nesting on the ground among the vegetables.
Courtship: The courtship of the ground dove is a very simple affair, much like that of the domestic pigeon. The male struts before the female, puffing out his feathers, bowing his head, and making a soft cooing sound. After they are mated the pair may often be seen sitting on a branch with their bodies touching in a most affectionate attitude. Donald J. Nicholson writes to me:
Early in the spring the mating is begun and it Is a common sight to see two or three males chasing a female on the ground. The female runs along and the male closely follows, taking short flights to catch her, when she arises and alights just ahead. When she has made her choice, they fly to some elevated spot in a tree and the mating is consummnted. I have never seen them copulating on the ground. They utter a soft peculiar note when chasing mates. They have a habit of flitting their wings, when running along.
Nesting: Erichsen (1920) writes:
In its choice of nesting sites, It exhibits a very wide range. It most frequently selects a low bush, either thinly or densely follaged. Other situations In which I have found nests Include the top of a low stump; high up on a horizontal limb of a large pine; and, frequently, upon the ground. An instance of its nesting on the ocean beach came under my observation May 13, 1915, on Ossabaw Island. In this case there was no attempt at nest building, the eggs being deposited in a slight depression in the sand; and when breeding on the ground in woodland or cultivated fields, little or no material Is assembled. In fact, nest building occupies little of the time and attention of this species, as when placed in trees or bushes the nest Is simply a slight affair of a few twigs loosely inierlaid. Further evidence of this bird’s disinclination to build a nest for the reception of its eggs is found In the fact that I once found a set in a deserted nest of the cardinal (Cardina lie cardina U. cardinafle).
So gentle and confiding are these birds that It Is often possible to touch them while on the nest, especially if incubation is advanced. Upon dropping off the nest they always simulate lameness, dragging themselves over the ground with drooping wings in an effort to draxv the Intruder away. I am of the opinion that they remain mated for life, since they are observed throughout the year most frequently in pairs.
Mr. Nicholson, who has” examined hundreds of nests,” says in his notes:
Nests are built on the ground as frequently as in vines, bushes, or trees, or along the tops of fences. One foot to 10 or 12 feet above the ground is the usual height.
The nests are delicate-looking structures, made usually of fine rootlets or grasses, and seldom any sticks are used, saddled on a limb, or among dead vines. The diameter measures froni 2½ to 3 inches across, by 1 inch to 2 inches thick, with scarcely any depression for the eggs, the eggs always showing above the rim of the nest.
A nest that I found on Murrays Key, Bay of Florida, on April 3, 1908, consisted of merely a few straws itt a slight hollow in the ground, under and between two tussocks of grass, which were arched over it; it was located in an open space in the brush, with small shrubs and weeds about it. Maynard (1896) “always found the nests in orange groves; the neat domiciles are placed on the lower limbs of trees.” Audubon (1840) says that the nest “is large for the size of the bird and compact. Its exterior is composed of dry twigs, its interior of grasses disposed in a circular form ;” he found a nest “placed on the top of a cactus not more than two feet high.” Dr. T. Gilbert Pearson (1920) writes:
There is no bird in the United States that to my knowledge breeds over so long a period of the year as does the ground dove. In my experience with these birds in Florida, I have found their nests occupying varying situations during different seasons of the year. Thus on February 28 and March 3, I have found nests located on the tops of partially decayed stumps of pine trees, only about 2 feet from the ground. Later in the season I have seen numerous nests placed on the ground, usually in fields of weeds or in standing grain. Fields of oats seem to be especially favored with their presence during midsummer. Late In July, August and on to the latter part of September, I have found their nests on horizontal limbs of large orange trees, on the level fronds of palms, and on the cross-bars or rails, as commonly used for supports of the widespreading scuppernong grape-vines.
Most observers have noted that when a ground dove’s nest is approached, the brooding bird quickly leaves the nest and flutters along the ground, attempting to lure the intruder away by feigning lameness. But Doctor Pearson (1920) writes:
Occasionally an individual Is found that declines to expose her treasures without an argument. As the inquiring hand comes close to the nest, she does not strike with her hill, nor even indulge In loud scolding, but with ruffled feathers raises her wings in a threatening attitude, as if she would crush the offending fingers If they came too close. Surely a puny, hopeless bit of resistance; nevertheless it shows that a stout heart throbs within the feathered breast of the little mother.
Mr. Nicholson has proved to his satisfaction that the same nest is used for a second or even third brood in a single season, by apparently the same pair of birds.
Eggs: The ground dove lays almost invariably two eggs, very rarely three and apparently never less than two. The eggs are usually elliptical oval in shape, sometimes oval, and rarely ovate. They show little or no gloss and are pure white in color. The measurements of 34 eggs average 21.9 by 16.2 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 24.4 by 16.6, 22.8 by 17.2, 20.3 by 15.2, and 21.7 by 15.1 millimeters.
Young: Tncubation is said to last from 12 to 14 days, both parents assisting. The breeding season is so prolonged, from February to November, that probably three or four broods, certainly two or three, are raised in a season. The young remain in the nest until they are ready to fly. Nicholson says, in his notes, that “when disturbed the young fly from the nests with a strong flight which is marvelous for the first attempt. After the young have hatched, the nest is very untidy; the droppings piled high on the outer edge of every nest, sometimes to half an inch or more in depth.”
Nicholson noted that the young are brooded by one or the other parent, or shaded from the hot sun, until they are well grown and feathered. When somewhat advanced in age they frequently come out from under the brooding parent to sun themselves and stretch their legs and wings.
Feeding begins within two hours after hatching; Nicholson saw a young bird break the shell and watched it until it was fed. The young are fed entirely on regurgitated food, which is given by both parents. Nicholson says it is a common act for a ground dove to feed both young simultaneously and that the young are more often fed this way than singly. He has succeeded in photographing the act.
Plumages: The nestling ground dove is scantily clothed with long, stringy, hairlike down of a dull gray color. In the juvenal plumage the young bird is much like the adult, but browner with duller markings above and fewer or none below; the upper parts vary in color from ‘~ snuff brown” to “cinnamon-brown,” brightest on the wing and tail coverts, with conspicuous black spots in the wing coverts; the underparts vary from “huffy brown ” to “wood brown.” I have been unable to trace the subsequent molts.
Food: Doctor Pearson (1920) says:
The ground dove’s food consists largely of small seeds which It gathers In the garden, on the lawn, by the roadside, in the geld, and other places where weeds or grasses are found. Naturally many insects are also picked up In their travels, particularly In the spring and summer. Small wild berries are also consumed. So far as known they never adversely affect the Interests of mankInd, even In the slightest degree, and wherever found they are protected by statute and by the still stronger law of public sentiment.
Behavior: When disturbed the ground dove rises on whistling wings; its flight is low and direct, but not protracted to any great distance; it generally amounts to only a short dash into the nearest cover. It is very much attached to certain restricted localities, in which it may be regularly found, and to which it soon returns after being disturbed. It is well named, for it is decidedly terrestrial in its habits, spending most of its time on the ground, where it walks quickly, with a pretty nodding motion of its head and with an elevated tail. It is, however, often seen perched on a fence, the branch of a tree, or the roof of a building.
Nicholson tells me that the incubating or brooding male assumes a fighting attitude when the nest is approached, with wings raised high above his back and uttering an angry, nasal, rasping note. One allowed himself to be lifted from the nest, to which he clung, making angry notes and striking with repeated heavy downward strokes of the wings, but never striking with the bill.
Voice: The soft, cooing notes of the ground dove are the characteristic sounds that one hears in its Florida haunts; their mourn ful character has given it the local name of “mourning dove” in many places. Nicholson says that “their cooing is done entirely from an elevated position; a house top, fence, telegraph wire, dead or living trees. I do not know if the female coos or not. For hours at a time it is kept up, but with rest periods, of course. Four or five males can be heard at one time within a 400-yard space.”
Enemies: The gentle little ground dove is too small to be of any account as a game bird, and, because of its sociable and confiding nature, there is a strong sentiment in favor of its protection everywhere. It has little, therefore, to fear from man; but it has plenty of natural enemies, such as cats, foxes, skunks, opossurns, hawks, and snakes. It seems well able to take care of itself, however, and its numerous broods, though small, are enough to keep up its numbers.
Range: Southern United States and Central America.
The range of the American races of the ground dove extends north to southern California (Brawley and opposite Ehrenberg, Ariz.) Arizona (Big Sandy Creek, Fort Verde, Beaver Creek, II Bar Ranch, and Pima); southern New Mexico (Mesilla Park); Texas (Pecos, Devils River, and Seguin) ; Louisiana (New Orleans); Alabama (Autaugaville and Montgomery) ; and North Carolina (Davidson County). East to North Carolina (Davidson County); South Carolina (Waverly Mills, Sullivans Island, and Frogmore) ; Georgia (Savannah, Blackbeard Island, and MacIntosh); and Florida (Watertown, San Mateo, De Land, Canaveral, Micco, Eden, Lake Worth, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami). South to Florida (Miami, Royal Palm Hammock, Vaca Key, Big Pine Key, Key West, Boca Grande, and Marquesas Keys); Guatemala (Duenas and Santa Maria) ; Guerrero (Chilpancingo) ; Jalisco (Chapala and Zapotlan); Tepic (San Bias and Tres Marias Islands); and Lower California (Cape San Lucas). West to Lower California (Cape San Lucas, San J05~ del Cabo, La Paz, Espiritu Santo Island, and San Felipe); southwestern Arizona (Yuma) ; and southern California (Winterhaven and Brawley).
The range as above outlined is for only the two American races, the eastern ground dove (Colutmbigallinct passerina p~~erina) ,and the Mexican ground dove (C. p. pallescens), the first of which is found in the South Atlantic and Gulf States west to Louisiana, while pallescens is found in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, southern California, and south to Guatemala. This species has been separated into many other geographic races, extending from Bermuda, through the West Indies, to northern South America (Colombia and Venezuela).
The species is generally nonmigratory, although there is some evidence of a movement in the Southwestern United States that apparently involves only a part of the ground-dove l)oPulatio~1.
Casual records: There are several records of occurrence north of the normal range. Among these are: California, one found dead at Salinas in June, 1913, and one obtained at San Francisco in May, 1870; Arkansas, a pair seen regularly for three years (last 1927), at Rogers, according to a report from D. E. Merrill to the Biological Survey; Iowa, one reported as “seen” at Des Moines, on June 10, 1922, by Clifford 11. Pangburn; northern Alabama, one shot at Leighton, on May 4, 1889; northern Georgia, one at Rising Fawn, May 9, 1885; western North Carolina, one seen in Buncombe County, May 29, 1891; Virginia, one at Lynchburg on November 4, 1900; Maryland, one near the mouth of Broad Creek, October 14, 1888; District of Columbia, one at Washington, September 1, 1844; Pennsylvania, one shot in Lancaster County in 1844; New Jersey, one taken near Camden in the autumn of 1858; and New York, one taken from a flock of seven, near New York City, in October, 1862.
Egg dates: Florida: 73 records, February 27 to October 22; 37 records, April 16 to June 2. South Carolina and Georgia: 20 records, February 22 to October 19; 10 records, May 17 to June 10. Texas: 58 records, March 30 to October 1; 29 records, May 3 to June 28. Arizona: 25 records, May 17 to October 8; 13 records, June 2 to August 11. Mexico: 34 records, March 7 to October 18; 17 records, May 3 to August 5.
COLUMBIGALLINA PASSERINA PALLESCENS (Baird)
MEXICAN GROUND DOVE [Current A.O.U. = Common Ground-Dove]
A slightly paler form of the ground dove is found along our southwestern borders and in Mexico. We found it common or abundant in suitable places in southern Texas and in southern Arizona, where its haunts and habits seemed to be like those of the eastern bird. In Arizona it was breeding commonly in the valley of the San Pedro River and I recorded it as abundant in the mesquite forest south of Tucson. It is a common dooryard bird in the small, quiet villages, very tame and confiding, as it runs about in the gardens or along the streets and is equally familiar about the ranches, barnyards, and cultivated fields. It is also common in the wellwatered woodlands in the river bottoms and in the willows along the irrigation ditches.
Griffing Bancroft (1930) says of its haunt.s in Lower California:
The presence of water seems to be the determining factor in the distribution of this little dove. It is common wherever there are irrigation ditches or pools or available water in any form. As a consequence its occurrence is locally concentrated.
The birds breed near open water. They carry their demand for its proximity so far that, assuming my notes to represent a fair average, four-fifths of their nests are within fifty feet of a place to drink. I was surprised when this fact began to develop and I found myse]f looking about for water whenever I flushed one of the doves from eggs or young. Seldom, indeed, was it not close at hand. There Is a marked contrast here with the birds of southern Sonora. There they abound on the open mesas and breed freely twenty to fifty miles or more from water.
Courtship: W. Leon Dawson (1923) writes:
Business-like always, the ground dove is not less diligent in courtship. The call note oo woo uk, oo woo uk, sounds a little hard and unromantic in comparison with that of the larger doves. The sound is very penetrating, but it is so low-pitched that some people fail to observe it. The singer is discreet, and the sound usually ceases upon the appearance of the ever-despicable human. Yet at close quarters with his lady love, the workaday swain knows how to be tender. At such times he trails after his enamorata with trembling wings and cries kool lcoOul. The daily visit to the drinking pool Is the recognized occasion for amours.
Nesting: A typical nest of the Mexican groUnd’ dove, which we found and photographed in the San Pedro Valley, Ariz., on May 17, 1922, is shown on Plate 93. It was found while exploring a narrow strip of small willows along the banks of an irrigation ditch. It was well made, for a dove’s nest, of coarse dry grasses and placed in the main crotch of a small willow, 6 feet above the ground. The two eggs in it were fresh.
Herbert Brown, as quoted by Major Bendire (1892), says:
They lay two eggs, and nest In trees or bushes. A nest found June 11, 1887, was constructed of a few dead twigs and grass placed on a limb of a willow near the ground; the female was on the nest. One found June 19 was also in a willow tree 20 feet from the ground and out on a limb 15 feet from the body of the tree, and made of a few dried stalks of alfalfa, it contained two eggs and the female was on the nest. A third nest, found June 26, contaIning two eggs, was made of long stems of dry grass and placed about ten feet from the ground. Whether this was a first laying I can not say. The nests are almost fiat. I do not think I ever saw a cavity more than half an inch deep.
Major Bendire (1892) says further:
All of the nests seen by me were placed on bushes or on trees, from 3 to 21 feet off the ground, not a single one was found on the ground. The first one found, on May 30, was placed in a syringa bush, about 3 feet from the ground. The little platform of small twigs and grass stems was very slight, about 4’A inches in diameter, and almost perfectly flat. The eggs were fresh.
Other nests, subsequently noticed, were placed in various trees and bushes, mostly in mesquite thickets, a few in willows, and two In walnut trees. A nest found July 28 was placed in a tree of this kind, about 20 feet from the ground. The tree was leaning, and some young sprouts had grown out from the main trunk, among which the nest was placed. The eggs were fresh, probably a second laying. All the nests examined by me were found in the creek bottoms or else close by, generally In clumps of mesquite bushes.
Griffing Bancroft (1930) says of its nesting sites in Lower California:
The Mexican ground dove is an unobtrusive little fellow, blending his coloration into his background on every occasion, and carrying his reticence Into his choice of nesting sites. He certainly does like concealment for his home, far more so than the birds of the opposite mainland. Trestled grapes are plentiful in this part of Lower California. Commonly a beam of palm wood three or four inches wide is supported on uprights at a height of five feet and a vine is trained to grow ever this structure. The favorite nesting site of the dove is on the fiat surface of the beam. The bird is snuggled in among the leaves, ideally protected and hidden.
Another popular haunt is in the palm jungles. At a height of from four to ten feet and on the stems of the vertical leaves of the date palms numbers of these birds build. They seek the shadows that come from heavy vegetation or crossed leaves. Most of the fan palms have been trimmed, their leaves being cut largely for roofing material. The stubs left are generally about a foot long, smooth and well cupped. Here, hidden from below and concealed from the sides, many of these doves raise their young. The preferred height is twelve to fifteen feet above the ground.
This dove is tame, flushes ut close range, and plays cripple most artistically. The laying season begins the middle of April. The nests are the most substantial of any of the local Columbidne and often attain a thickness of an inch or more. They are built of comparatively long and fine materials, palm fibre and grass stalks being the favorites. They are well matted and the strands are twisted spirally to form a fiat disc to which is added somewhat finer material in the center. Fifty-four eggs collected from Santa Agueda to San Joaquin average 21.9X16.S millimeters.
John C. Fortiner (1920) reports three interesting records of winter nesting of this dove in Imperial County, Calif. On December 21, 1919, he found a dove brooding a single squab in its nest in a eucalyptus tree; the nest was well built and was placed on some lodged bark, well hidden from view from the ground. A second nest was found on January 22, 1920, containing one young bird; “this nest was also in a eucalyptus tree, about 18 feet from the ground, and was a rebuilt mourning dove’s nest. This second nest was watched, and on February 14 was seen to have a sitting ground dove on it. The two eggs it contained were collected the next day and found to have been incubated already several days.”
Again (1921) he writes:
The Mexican ground dove appears to be partial to old nests, using its own or that of a mourning dove generally; but I have seen a pair trying a Sonora red-winged blackbird’s nest; and during 1921 a pair has used an old Abert Towhee’s nest for three broods, beginning to sit January 30, on the first eggs, and June 21, on the third set.
M. French Oilman (1911) says:
The nests are fairly well made for doves and are composed mostly of rootlets and small twigs. One nest rather more pretentious than usual was made of rootlets, grass stems and blades, leaf stems with veins attached, small twigs, horse hair, and a few feathers. It was compact and fairly well made, with a decided cup in the center measuring nearly an inch deep, and two inches across from rim to rim. One was an old nest re-vamped, and another was merely a superstructure over an old Abert Towhee’s nest. The very late date before mentioned was probably the second brood, as the nest was an old one re-lined, possibly a last year’s nest, but more likely an earlier nest of the same year.
Eggs: The Mexican ground dove lays two eggs, rarely only one. They are just like eggs of the eastern bird. The measurements of 56 eggs average 21.5 by 16.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 23.5 by 16.5, 23 by 17.5, and 20 by 15 millimeters.
Young: Probably two, and perhaps three, broods are raised in a season. Both sexes share in the duties .of incubation, which is said to last 14 days. Fortiner (1920) gives the following interesting account of the behavior of the young:
The nesting birds were not disturbed, and two weeks later the two old doves and the young were discovered feeding on the ground. They soon flew to a tree, where the young bird ~x’as fed by regurgitation, but by one of the parents only. No time was available for observation until the following Sunday, when the three doves were again seen feeding, and later all three flew to an umbrella tree, where the young dove was fed by both parent doves. The young dove, after being fed once, hopped onto the old bird’s back, then down to the limb on which the old dove was perched then, when not being fed, It extended its wing out over the parent dove and gently tapped the hack of it~ parent until it was fed again. It then flew to where the other parent dove was perched, where it went through the same actions. Whether this is typical of the behavior of young ground doves I am unable to say.
Food: The food of this dove consists of seeds, waste grain, and various berries.
Voice: The call notes are described under courtship. William Lloyd, according to Major Bendire (1892), gives them as pas-cual, pas-cual, pas-cual. George F. Simmons (1925) describes the voice, which is seldom heard, as “intense cooing; mellow, soft, crooning, floating coos; a single long drawn-out ventriloquistic, misleading woo, uttered at short intervals. Begins its moaning about mid-afternoon.”
COLUMBIGALLINA PASSERINA BAHAMENSIS (Maynard)
BAHAMA GROUND DOVE [Current A.O.U. = Common Ground-Dove]
The form of the ground dove found on the Bermuda and Bahama Islands was described by Charles J. Maynard (1896) as “similar in form and general coloration to the ground dove, but somewhat smaller and paler; the color on the lower parts and on the wings above being much less ruddy and the top of the head is more ashy, this color often extending well down onto the neck above. The bill is wholly black, not red at base.”
Its habits apparently do not differ from those of the common ground dove, for he writes:
This is an exceedingly common and familiar bird throughout all of the Bahama Islands which I have visited, being equally abundant in the grounds about the houses, even in the city of Nnssau, in the open spaces in the scrub remote from settlements, ns well as on the most desolate and unfrequented keys, provided they are sufficiently wooded to afford the birds shelter. In the city of Nassau, and in other towns and settlements, they are very tame, feeding about the houses either In pairs or in small flocks of from half a dozen to a dozen individuals.
The Bahama ground dove breeds everywhere about the more open portions of the scrub. The nest, as far as I have observed, is always placed on trees or bushes, the latter being most often chosen as a nesting site.
Eggs: These are also similar to those of the mainland birds. The measurements of the only three eggs available are 24 by 17.5, 20.7 by 15.7, and 21.3 by 15.7 millimeters.