What is a Dove?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A dove is a bird in the family Columbidae, which also includes pigeons. In fact, the terms “dove” and “pigeon” are often used interchangeably, and there are no real biological differences between doves and pigeons. Most commonly, a smaller member of this bird family is referred to as a dove, while larger birds are considered to be pigeons, but there is considerable overlap and little consistency in how the terms are applied.

In the Bible, a dove carries an olive branch to tell Noah that the flood is ending.
In the Bible, a dove carries an olive branch to tell Noah that the flood is ending.

The word “dove” comes from a Proto-Germanic word, dubon, which means “to dive,” in a reference to the flight of the dove. Doves can be found throughout the world, avoiding only the dry and hostile Sahara and the extremely cold and dry arctic and Antarctic. As a result, many cultures are familiar with doves, and the birds have been used variously as game, pets, and messenger animals.

In scripture, a dove carried an olive branch to Noah to show him that the flood had ended.
In scripture, a dove carried an olive branch to Noah to show him that the flood had ended.

Doves have distinctively plump bodies, short legs and beaks, and small heads. Many doves also have tails which are longer than other members of the Columbidae family, and this is sometimes used as another criterion to differentiate between doves and pigeons. Like their larger relatives, doves can come in a range of colors, from drab gray to more exciting tropical looks like red and yellow.

Many people associate doves with peace, especially in the West. Doves have been used as symbols of peace and gentleness since the time of the Greeks, with white doves in particular being considered symbols of peace, goodwill, and friendship. The dove famously appears in the story of Noah and Ark, bearing an olive branch to tell Noah that the flood is ending.

Doves eat fruit and seeds, and many are very intrepid, skilled foragers. Female doves lay two eggs in flimsily constructed nests during the mating season, with both parents helping to hatch the eggs and raise the young. Members of the Columbidae family secrete a fascinating substance called crop milk to feed their young in the first few days of life. As you might imagine from the name, crop milk originates from the crop of the bird, and it is extremely rich and highly nutritious.

Many people like to keep pet doves, and as a result they are often available through pet stores and specialty breeders. Others simply enjoy encountering the birds in the wild, as these gentle, small birds can be a pleasant sight, especially in groups. Doves are also famous for their distinctive cooing vocalizations, which are used to communicate within the flock, and for flirtation with specific birds.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@dinoleash: Doves can be excellent pets. They are fairly inexpensive but you should use care when picking out your bird. It is usually best to buy directly from a breeder than from a pet store. Always pay attention to the environment that the bird is in when you purchase it. Never buy one from a place that does appear the birds are well cared for.

They can be kept inside your home in a cage or outdoors in aviaries. They spend a lot of time on the floor of their cage so surface space is important. Your cage needs plenty of perching areas with perches of different sizes.

Doves need a variety of seeds. You can buy a dove mix or parakeet seed mix. Your dove also needs water and grit. The grit should be put in a bowl by itself.

The cage needs to cleaned weekly. Molting occurs in late summer and the dove will lose their feathers and then grow new ones.

Do not clip the wings of your dove. If you do not want a pet that can fly, I wouldn’t suggest a bird.


Can you have a dove as a pet?


@alex94: Mourning doves actually get their names from their mournful song. They are a wild bird that is medium sized ranging from 9 to 13 inches. Their wingspan is anywhere from 15-18 inches.

Mourning doves are found across North America, breeding from Cuba north to Southern Canada. They are found wintering from Southern Illinois and New York to Panama and the Greater Antilles.


What is a mourning dove and where did it get its name?

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