Bird Watcher's General Store

“A Cape Cod Destination Icon For 40 Years”

No Common Ground-Doves in Massachusetts

Dear Bird Folks,

I called your store about the attached photo. I was hoping someone there could identify the bird for me. I was told by the person who answered the phone that I should e-mail the picture to you, so here it is. The bird is sitting on the edge of my birdbath and I think it’s some kind of dove. Could it be a Common Ground-Dove?

– Carole, Dennis, MA


That sounds like my store, Carole,

I love that my well-trained staff couldn’t even identify a dove without my help. What a bunch of slackers. Actually, they probably could have told you what your bird was, but they were most likely too busy eating snacks or discussing the latest local gossip. This makes me very unhappy. I’m not upset that they couldn’t help you with your dove identification. I’m upset that I wasn’t there for the snacks and the gossip. I hate when I miss the good stuff. That will teach me to skip work.

The bird in your photo is indeed a dove. However, it’s not a Common Ground-Dove. It’s our old pal the ubiquitous Mourning Dove. Common Ground-Doves are nearly unheard of in Massachusetts. To my knowledge there has only been one sighting in the state and that was nearly forty years ago. But don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about Common Ground-Doves anyway. That way if one really does show up on your birdbath, you’ll know what to look for and you won’t have to call my shop and interrupt our snack and gossip breaks.

Common Ground-Doves are sweet little birds. They only weigh about an ounce and are not much larger than a House Sparrow. By comparison, the city Rock Pigeon is nine times heavier. (It’s clear that the city bird’s diet of fast food scraps isn’t doing it any favors.)

As their name implies, Common Ground-Doves enjoy life on the ground. They spend most of the day unnoticed, walking in the dirt and pecking at seeds. They tend to go unnoticed because they have the same dull, gray/ brown plumage that Mourning Doves have. However, their dullness changes the minute they take flight. When this dove flies it reveals its bright, chestnut-red wings. In a nanosecond the bird transforms itself from bland and boring to eye-catching. It’s like in the movies when the dull librarian suddenly becomes beautiful just by letting her hair down and removing her glasses. (Too bad it never works that way in real life.)

Some folks have suggested that doves make a poor choice for the symbol of peace because they are always squabbling. But Common Ground-Doves are far more relaxed than many of their larger cousins. Even when ground-doves are in their territories, they don’t work too hard to keep other doves away. Sometimes they may warn intruding doves by cooing or raising one of their colorful wings. Other times they don’t even bother doing that. They just say, “Okay, whatever. Who needs the hassle?” I think librarians have more fight in them than these birds have.

If you see one Common Ground-Dove you are likely to see two. They resemble an older married couple; they pretty much do everything together. They roost, eat, bathe, rest and preen together. They often preen so closely that they preen each other, just like monkeys do. Also, like younger couples, and monkeys, they like to breed. Some ground-doves have as many as four broods per year. While they seem to enjoy having lots of families, the idea of building all those nests doesn’t really appeal to them. Ground-dove nests are often hastily put together, poorly constructed and flimsy, looking like they bought them from IKEA. Some ground-doves dislike nest construction so much that they frequently reuse old nests that were built by such birds as cardinals, blackbirds or towhees. Ground-doves may be lazy, but at least they support recycling.

Unfortunately for us Northerners, we aren’t likely to see one of these mini-doves in our yards. They are strictly southern birds. Most of them never venture further north than southern South Carolina. They also do very little migrating, which further decreases the odds of a lost dove accidently finding its way to New England. The first Common Ground-Dove I ever saw was on my first trip to Florida. Disney World had just opened and we were driving through the entrance gate when I saw this strange little bird sitting on the welcome sign. I slammed on the car’s brakes, flipped up my binoculars and spied the tiniest dove I had ever seen. I quickly opened my field guide and in a few minutes I was able to identify the bird. As I sat there, savoring the experience of seeing a brand new bird, I was jarred back to reality by the sound of honking horns coming from the cars backed up behind me. For some reason the other families weren’t as excited to sit and look at this little dove as I was. It seems they were in a hurry to drive past the live birds so they could go into the park and see the mechanical ones.

Thanks for the photo, Carole. Sorry to report that the bird in your photo wasn’t a sweet little ground-dove. You’ll have to make a trip down south if you want to see one in person. I’m also sorry you had trouble getting one of us to help you. I promise that won’t happen again…unless you call during our snack and gossip break, which is basically anytime we are open.