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Wild Thing

cuddle buddies

Inca doves, increasingly among us, huddle together for warmth.


Even before the startled bobcat dropped an injured one near my kitchen door, I’ve been fascinated with the quiet presence of Inca doves on my Hill Country homestead.

Small and soft, both in sound and appearance, four of these scaled tan-and-gray beauties spend every day outside my window as I work, enjoying fallen seed from the feeders and basking in the late afternoon sun side-by-side on a low hackberry branch. Always together, existing in peace and tranquility.

My little quartet isn’t unusual. Inca doves’ presence is increasing in areas of human disturbance, like ours, spreading up from Central America through Texas and as far north as Colorado. Their preferred habitat includes urban and suburban settings, woodland edges, savannas and thickets in and around fields.

In the winter, Inca doves, which gather in large flocks, have a unique way of dealing with temperatures below 20. They huddle together like a pile of sandbags, and even sit on top of each other, forming a dove pyramid up to three doves high — a behavior called “pyramid roosting.” Even if only two are present, they sit together.

Although they often forage in groups, males maintain territory boundaries during the breeding season. Territorial males threaten intruding doves by walking in a zigzag pattern toward intruders, sometimes attacking them with their wings and bills. Males and females form monogamous bonds during the breeding season.

Inca doves nest in trees and shrubs as well as on utility poles, houses and other structures. The male gathers material for the female to construct a rough platform of twigs, grass, leaves, roots and bark. Inca doves often nest several times in the same year; they frequently reuse the same nest or nests abandoned by other birds.

Inca doves, like other doves, feed their young a substance called “crop milk.” Both males and females produce the milk in their crops (a food storage pouch above the stomach). The cells in the crop wall shed a nutritious, milky-colored secretion. Despite its appearance and name, it’s not related to the milk produced by mammals.

Before you see the well-camouflaged doves, you’ll likely hear their cry of “no hope, no hope.” Their wings flap loudly as they burst into flight, flashing chesnut underwings and white outer tail feathers. They generally do not fly far after being startled and often resettle in a nearby tree.

TPWD ornithologist Cliff Shackelford discussed the bird’s unlikely geographical name on a December episode of his Bird Calls show on Red River Radio.

“The bird’s name does not suit it,” he says. “It likely was supposed to be called the Aztec dove, since the Incas are South American, nowhere close to where this dove occurs.”

 Howard Cheek | Dreamstime.com

Common name:

Inca dove

Scientific name:

Columbina inca

Habitat:

Fields with short vegetation

Diet:

Mostly seeds

Did you know:

Inca doves’ red eyes become even brighter when they’re threatened by an intruder.

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