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White-Winged Dove on Cape Cod

Dear Bird Folks,

Here are some pictures of a dove that is coming to our feeder. This particular dove looks like a Mourning Dove but it has white stripes on the edges of its wings. What causes this?

-Beth and Terry, Chatham, MA
p.s. After looking at these pictures we realize that our feeder needs to be cleaned.


You are lucky, B and T,

You are lucky you added that “p.s.” because I was just about to get all up in your face about cleaning your feeder. You are right It is disgusting.. However, the p.s. isn’t going save you from a comment about the feeder itself. That’s one weird looking birdfeeder. Where the heck did you get that thing and why does it have a thermostat on it? (Yes, a thermostat.) It looks something that came out of a middle school shop class, made from parts that fell off the back of a plumber’s truck. I probably shouldn’t give you a hard time about it. This is the second unusual bird that has been in your yard in the past few months. Aren’t you the same Beth and Terry who had a Dickcissel back in November? That’s pretty good. Maybe I should start selling that strange feeder of yours. Remind me to get the name of your plumber.

Unusual white feathering on a bird is typically associated with something that is known as “leucism.” I like to think of leucism as being a partial form of albinism. We get calls about finches with white heads, Black-capped chickadees with white caps and even crows with white tails. Leucistic birds are “regular” birds, except for the fact that some of their feathers are white instead of their normal color. However, this is not the case with the bird that is eating from your thermostatically controlled birdfeeder. You have yet another rather rare bird coming to visit you. It is a White-winged Dove and as the name implies it is supposed to have white on its wings. These doves are normally found in the southwestern U.S., why is it in Chatham, 1,800 miles away from its natural range? After much research, I’ve discovered that White-winged Doves will travel great distances to eat from any feeder that was made in a middle school shop class. Who knew?

Superficially, White-winged Doves look much like Mourning Doves. One difference, in addition to the diagnostic white edging on the wings, is that White-winged Doves are stocky; in comparison, Mourning Doves are slimmer birds, looking like they spend time at the gym. The chunkier White-winged Doves also look like they spend time at the Jim, Jim’s House of Donuts.

Typically, White-winged Doves are found in the more arid parts of this country. Some western populations have developed a strong relationship with the saguaro cactus. In a move that looks to be disastrous, at least on paper, the birds build their nests and raise their babies during the driest and hottest part of the desert summer. However, the birds have it all under control. They know that saguaros produce flowers and fruit this time of year and that’s all they need to be successful breeders. The seeds in the fruit and flowers provide the necessary food for the birds and the juice in the fruit supplies them with all the moisture they need to survive the scorching heat. In return for providing them with food and drink, the bird’s feeding activity helps pollinate the saguaros. They also help regenerate new cacti. Occasionally, undigested seeds pass through the birds’ system and are dumped out along with the pooppis-splatis (that’s the scientific name for you-know-what). Many a mighty saguaro came to earth via pooppis-splatis.

However, not all White-winged Doves depend upon cacti. Many once thrived in the mesquite trees of the southwest. As the mesquites were cut down to make room for agriculture and homes, the birds readily adapted. Orchards and ornamental trees now provide the doves with alternative nesting sites, while farms, feeders and birdbaths give them food and drinking options. Because of these new alternatives White-winged Doves have been expanding their range northward.

In the past year I’ve had several reports of White-winged Doves coming to area feeders. A few summers ago there were two or three doves visiting a yard in Cape Cod’s avian Bermuda Triangle, East Orleans. It’s the same area that has recently attracted a Painted Bunting and a Summer Tanager. But while the bunting and tanager are most likely birds with a screwed up sense of direction, this may not be the case with the doves. They may be simply exploring. Wandering White-winged Doves have been reported as far north as Alaska and Newfoundland, and tons of places in between, including Chatham, Cape Cod, USA. I wouldn’t expect them to be raising a family this far north anytime soon, but the way the real estate market is going, who knows?

I don’t know how long your dove will be at your feeder, Beth and Terry. Their MO has been to hang around in an area until they get bored and then move on, without leaving a note or a forwarding address. But whether it stays or not, you really need to go out and clean that crazy feeder of yours. And while you’re at it be sure to turn up your feeder’s thermostat. It’s supposed to be a cold weekend.