What is a turtle dove?

Wild doves are native to areas around the Mediterranean, including North Africa.

The turtle dove is a member of the same family as pigeons, but has a longer neck and a more graceful appearance than its unwelcome 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 blue-gray head, which is smaller than the heads of other members of the pigeon family. Males have a patch of black feathers tipped with blue on the nape, and their bodies are reddish-brown, with gray tail feathers tipped with white. Female turtledoves and hatchlings of both sexes have similar coloring and patterns, but lack the luster of plumage of the adult male.

Like other pigeons and doves, turtledoves have a straight beak that they use to suck up water, unlike other birds that tend to sip and tilt their head back to drink. They are foragers and find most of the fruits and seeds that make up their diet in the soil. These warm-weather residents feed during the morning and evening hours, and roost in the hot midday hours.

Turtle doves are monogamous, and after winning the affections of another person through a dancing, cooing courtship that can last for days, they stay together for the rest of their lives. Males choose nesting sites, usually in hedgerows or protected, wooded areas. Females build nests before laying two bluish-white eggs. The couple then takes turns laying the eggs and caring for the chicks until they can leave the nest.

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A variety called the ringed turtle dove has long been domesticated for 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 on the nape 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 rather than running when spotted by predatory birds such as hawks. Also known as the Barbary Dove and Ring Dove, this captive variety of turtle dove also feeds on seeds in the ground. They can easily escape into the wild, but are usually not hardy enough to survive on their own for long.

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