White-winged Dove


White winged doves have a special partnership with the saguaro cactus.  They time their migration to the Sonora Desert to coincide with the blooming of the cactus.  The cactus relies on the doves for pollination as they go from flower to flower sipping nectar. When the flowers turn to fruit, about the end of June, they are filled with thousands of small seeds which the doves help to spread as they regurgitate food to their young; they also spread the seeds through their droppings. The doves especially rely on the saguaro for water and nutrients during breeding season.

White-winged Dove|Saguaro Nat'l Park|Tucson, AZ


The White-winged Dove is a grayish-brown above and gray below. Its wings are dark with white patches on the outer side of each wing. It is the only Dove to have white wing patches. When sitting, the white on the wing shows only as a thin white line.  It has a short rounded tail with white tips on the corners.  Each reddish-orange eye is surrounded bright blue bare skin in a teardrop shape. It has a long, slim bill which it uses to sip nectar. There is a small black crescent mark below its eye, and an iridescent green-gold sheen on the back of its neck. Its legs and feet are reddish.  Sexes are similar in appearance. The juvenile looks like the adult but is grayer and does not have the bare blue skin around its eye.  Its eyes are brown; its legs and feet are also brownish.

Range and Habitat

This dove is mostly a tropical bird and winters south of the United States in Mexico, Central, and South America.  In North America, it is a resident in the southwest, along the gulf coast, and in Florida.  Lately it has been expanding its range and has been seen in Alaska, Maine, and most states in between.  It favors arid areas, river woods, mesquite, Saguaro Cacti, desert oasis, and will wander into more urban areas.


It eats a diet of seeds, fruit, and consumes the seeds of the Saguaro Cactus, the Agave Cactus, the Ocotillo, and the Willow Tree, grinding the seeds in its gizzard.  It relies on the fruit of the Saguaro cactus for nutrients and water, but is able to go several days without water.  It is also known to fly long distances to get to water, sometimes traveling up to 20 miles in a day! Like most doves, it will forage on the ground; it nods its head when walking, and sucks up water without lifting its head.  You might find the White-wing Dove roosting together with other birds in large flocks.  It call is cooing sounds, which sounds like “who-cooks-for-you?”

“White-wings.” as they are called in the southwest,  are fast flying birds.   Their wings give a soft whistle when they take off (they make  a softer sound than when a  Mourning Dove takes off).  They are game birds, and are avidly hunted in some states of the southwest.  During migration, you may see up to 4,000 birds in one flock flying together.

Breeding and Nesting

The White-winged Dove is monogamous. The male’s display flight involves climbing up high in the air with clapping wing beats, and then gliding back down again. He will flash his tail and puff up his neck feathers as he loudly coos to his potential mate. The pair will nest singly or in large colony. The male gathers the sticks and grasses and the female builds the nest.  Like other doves, the nest is a flimsy platform.  It is placed in a fruit tree, mesquite bush, or in a cactus (the spine of the cactus provides extra protection.)  The female lays 2 eggs.  Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for 2 weeks; the male incubates during the day and the female at night. The young are fed “pigeons milk” (a white liquid substance formed in the crop) until they are about 4 days old, then they are fed regurgitated fruit and are ready to eat seeds on their own.  They fledge in 2 weeks and remain in the area to be fed by the parents for about a month.  White-winged Doves have 2-3 broods a year.

Photo Gallery White-winged Dove