What is a Turtle Dove?

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  • Written By: Debra Durkee
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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The turtle dove is a member of the same family as pigeons, but it has a longer neck and a more graceful appearance than its largely unwanted cousins. In the wild, turtle doves are native to areas around the Mediterranean, including North Africa, southern Europe, and the western part of Asia. Like many birds, the turtle dove winters in more southern climates, heading to Africa in the fall.

This slender bird has a grayish-blue head, which is smaller than the heads of other members of the pigeon family. Males have a patch of blue-tipped, black feathers on the back of their necks, and their bodies are reddish brown, with gray tail feathers tipped with white. The female turtle doves and the young of both genders have similar coloring and patterns, but lack the brilliance of the adult male plumage.

Like other pigeons and doves, turtle doves have a straight bill that they use for sucking up water, as opposed to other birds that tend to sip and tilt their heads back to drink. They are foragers, and find most of the fruits and seeds that make up their diet on the ground. These warm-weather residents forage during the morning and evening hours, and roost during the hot midday hours.


Turtle doves are monogamous, and after winning another's affections through a dancing, cooing courtship that can last for days, they stay with each other for life. Males choose nesting sites, typically in hedges or sheltered, wooded areas. Females build the nests before laying two blue-white eggs. The pair then takes turns laying on the eggs and caring for the young until they can leave the nest.

A variety called the ringed turtle dove has long been domesticated to captivity. Generally paler than its wild cousins, the ringed turtle dove is normally an extremely pale brown, with a darker, mottled back. The name comes from a ring of black feathers across the back of the neck.

The ringed turtle dove is easy to tame, and most have no innate fear of larger animals. They share many of the same characteristics as the wild turtle dove, including their unique method of drinking and their habits of freezing in place instead of running when spotted by predatory birds like hawks. Also known as the barbary dove and the ringdove, this captive variety of turtle dove also forages for seed on the ground. They can easily escape into the wild, but are generally not hardy enough to survive on their own for long.


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