During the holidays, I received word from a reader of this column, Brian Parsons, that he had what he believed to be a pair of turtle doves at his feeder south of Evergreen. He described the birds as being “a pair of light-colored doves with a black neck ring.”
I talked to Mr. Parsons on the phone, but I have not as yet been able to see the birds myself. His description could be either of two birds, both of which have been seen in Colorado in the past.
The ringed turtle dove is a possibility, but most people describe this bird as being a white dove, not as being light colored. The name acknowledges the black collar that curves across the back of the neck. The bird is so pale that it appears to be white, and its scientific name is Streptopelia risoria.
The very similar Eurasian collared dove is pale buff-gray or buff-brown and is larger than our native mourning dove. Both of these birds may be very light colored and have dark (black) collars across the back of their necks.
They also frequently perch on utility lines, making it possible for birders to see their undertail coverts. The turtle dove is a nearly white dove that appears at feeders every once in a while. They are not very hardy, and although they have spread out some from their original sighting in the South, they do not fare well in the wild and seldom survive long. They are nearly white, have dark primary wing feathers and have white undertail coverts.
The Eurasian collared dove is similar but is bigger than our mourning dove:13 inches long compared with 12 inches long. The turtle dove is a bit smaller, usually about 11 inches. The Eurasian collared dove is usually a bit more colored than the ringed turtle dove but not as dark as the mourning dove. It has a buff-gray back, and white head, neck and breast with gray undertail coverts. The base of the tail is black, which may be seen a bit on each side of the gray-tail coverts. Both of these birds have black collars.
The Eurasian collared dove was introduced to the Bahamas and appeared in Florida soon after that. It was well established in Florida by 1970. Then it expanded its range westward until it is now found in every state and northward into Canada. Recently I heard of one reported from Alaska, however, that could be from the southern coastal area that is so like British Columbia.
The Christmas Bird Count in 2004-05 showed the spread of Eurasian collared doves had crossed the continent in a quarter of a century, and they were found in 32 states and four provinces. This is an amazing rapid movement. However, the Eurasia collared dove has spread the same way from its original Asian location across Asia and Europe until it reached the Atlantic Ocean.
Since so many people are fond of white doves and keep them in captivity, they frequently escape, especially those that are released at weddings. Some of these birds fail to return to their coops, thus making for more releases in widely dispersed areas.
These light doves are a pretty addition to our fauna, and even though the Eurasian collared doves have gone wild and spread across the country, they are not considered a native bird, so we’ll not find them on many checklists. However, with their healthy colonies and successful breeding, they will probably, in time, become as much a part of our regular bird sightings as starlings and house sparrows are today.