Common Ground-Dove

Columbina passerina

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 2002
  • Reed Bowman

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Common Ground-Dove in North and Middle America.

And the western West Indies. This species also breeds in South America and the eastern West Indies. See text for details.

Adult Common Ground-Dove; Texas, March

; photographer Brian E. Small

The Common Ground-Dove is one of the smallest doves in North America and is among the smallest in the family. Its scientific name speaks of its size. The genus name Columbina is the Latin diminutive of columba and means “little dove,” and the species name is Latin for “sparrow,” again a reference to small size (Terres 1980b).

This bird has the widest and northernmost distribution of any species in the tropically and subtropically distributed genus Columbina . It is found throughout the southernmost tier of the United States, from Florida to California; the West Indies; Mexico and much of Central America; and the northern third of South America. Although sedentary in most regions, it appears to make some seasonal movements, leaving colder, inland, or high-altitude portions of its range in winter. Most birds appear to settle relatively close to their natal site, but vagrants frequently are found far north of their typical breeding range, suggesting that some individuals wander widely. This species is strongly associated with arid, early-successional open woodlands and shrub or scrub habitats, but also is found around human habitations, especially irrigated agricultural fields and low-density residential development. Its plaintive, but repetitive advertisement woot call is a common sound in many areas of the rural South, evoking the colloquial names “moaning dove” and “tobacco dove” for its habit of occurring near agricultural fields.

In many respects, the Common Ground-Dove is distinct from its congeners. It forms permanent pair bonds and has few other intraspecific social interactions. It has less of a tendency to form flocks and appears to have a relatively limited repertoire of social behaviors, especially of communications among individuals within a group. Where sedentary, it appears to hold permanent territories, but overt acts of aggression among territorial birds are relatively rare.

In other respects, the Common Ground-Dove is a typical columbid. It builds flimsy nests and lays 2 eggs. It breeds nearly year-round, but breeding appears to peak in response to resource availability. It feeds predominantly on tiny seeds of grasses and weeds, and adults feed nestlings a mixture of seeds and crop milk. Nestlings have rapid growth rates and can fly as early as 11 days posthatching. Because adults can renest rapidly, they have the potential to produce several broods per year.

Despite its relatively large reproductive potential, the Common Ground-Dove has been declining in portions of its North American range, as have many other bird species associated with early-successional habitats. At least in Florida, these declines may be associated with habitat losses to agricultural and residential development and to habitat degradation, through fire suppression and the resulting changes in vegetative community structure.

Major studies of this species are few. Passmore (Passmore 1981, Passmore 1984) examined breeding biology, food habits, growth, molt patterns, and breeding by juveniles, but provided few demographic data. Pérez and Bulla (Pérez and Bulla 2000) provide interesting comparisons of diet among sympatric ground-doves in Venezuela. Descriptive studies of behavior and vocalizations of ground-doves (Johnston Johnston 1962b, Johnston 1964b) and taxonomy (Goodwin Goodwin 1959a, Goodwin 1983b; Johnston 1961d) exist, but there are no quantitative systematic studies of the genus. Few studies have examined habitat preferences (Landers and Buckner 1979, Jones and Mirarchi 1990); but Rivera-Milán (Rivera-Milán 1993, Rivera-Milan 1996, Rivera-Milán 2001) used survey data and nest counts to examine the influence of habitat, rainfall, and food abundance on ground-doves and other columbids in Puerto Rico. No longitudinal studies of marked birds exist for this species.

Recommended Citation

Bowman, R.  (2002). Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.