Alaska for its wild and rugged beauty, with vast expanses of wilderness and breathtaking scenery. This diverse landscape is home to a wide variety of bird species, including the gentle and melodious doves. These birds, with their soothing coos and graceful presence, have found a place amidst the rugged terrain and tranquil settings of the Cowboy State. In our exploration of doves in Alaska, we’ll uncover the types of doves you can encounter, their intriguing behaviors, and their significance in the state’s natural world. Whether you’re an avid birder or simply curious about Alaska’s avian inhabitants, let’s embark on a journey to discover the world of doves in Alaska.
Types of Doves in Alaska:
- Rock Dove
- Band-tailed Pigeon
- Oriental Turtle-dove
- Eurasian Collared-dove
- White-winged dove
- Mourning Dove
- Scientific name: Zenaida macroura
- Lifespan: 2-5 years
- Size: 9-13 inches
- Native to: Southern Canada to central Mexico
The Mourning Dove is predominantly gray in color and possesses unique features including sizable black spots on its wings, an elongated slender tail, pinkish legs, a black beak, and a prominent blue ring around its eye. Interestingly, males and females of this species have the same appearance.
In Alaska, the Mourning Dove is not only common but also quite familiar. Frequently, you can observe them perched at elevated positions in trees or on telephone wires in the vicinity of your residence. They are also commonly sighted on the ground, where they primarily engage in feeding activities.
Mourning Doves are commonly observed at bird feeding stations, where they often visit for food. To attract them, consider offering their favorite foods, which include millet, shelled sunflower seeds, Nyjer seeds, cracked corn, and safflower seeds. These doves prefer flat feeding surfaces, so trays or platforms make excellent feeders. They are quite comfortable feeding on the ground as well, so providing food there is a good idea.
These doves are highly prolific in their breeding habits. Female Mourning Doves frequently produce 3 to 6 broods during each breeding season. Although the young doves spend a maximum of 15 days in the nest, they remain in close proximity to their parents, who continue to feed them for about another week. It’s a common misconception for people to think that these young doves have fallen out of the nest, as they can barely fly. However, they may not realize that their parents are nearby, ensuring their sustenance.
Regarding their vocalizations, Mourning Doves are renowned for their unique low cooing sound, which can be described as “coo-ah, coo, coo, coo.” This mournful sound is the origin of the dove’s name and is sometimes confused with the call of an owl by many residents of Alaska.
- Scientific name: Patagioenas fasciata
- Lifespan: 6-10 years
- Size: Medium-sized dove; 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) in length
- Origin: Found in the Americas, from southwestern Canada to central Mexico
The Band-tailed Pigeon is a rather large dove with grayish wings and back, while its underparts appear purple-gray. It stands out with its thin yellow bill, tipped in a dark color. Another distinguishing feature is the presence of a white bar on the back of their neck, positioned just above a patch of greenish iridescent feathers. This characteristic helps differentiate them from Rock Pigeons.
When you spot one Band-tailed Pigeon, you can expect to see many more. These doves typically travel in large groups, sometimes numbering in the hundreds.
While their natural habitat is found in mature coniferous or mixed forests in Alaska, Band-tailed Pigeons have adapted well to human presence. They can often be seen in wooded suburban areas, where they visit backyard bird feeders. Besides seeds, they have a penchant for berries and fruit.
Band-tailed Pigeons tend to spend a lot of their time high up in tall trees, making them somewhat challenging to spot. However, you might have better luck listening to their distinct calls while walking through wooded areas. The males produce soft, deep, and slow coos that rise slightly in pitch, which some people liken to the hooting of an owl.
- Scientific name: Streptopelia decaocto
- Lifespan: 3 years
- Size: 12-14 inches
- Native to: Bay of Bengal region (India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar
The Eurasian Collared-Dove is primarily a sandy brown bird with a distinctive long, square-tipped tail. As its name suggests, you can identify it by the black collar on the back of its neck.
In Alaska, Eurasian Collared-Doves are considered invasive. Regrettably, in the 1970s, an individual introduced them to the Bahamas, and since that time, their numbers have increased quickly. They continue to spread even today.
One reason for their rapid colonization is their comfort around humans. They have thrived in proximity to bird feeders and in urban and suburban areas. It’s common to spot them on the ground or platform feeders, where they feed on grains and seeds.
When it comes to their song, listen for a “koo-KOO-kook” sound, which both males and females produce. Notably, their song has a distinct pattern where the middle syllable is longer than the first and last ones. Male doves often sing louder when they are defending their territory or trying to attract a mate. To distinguish Eurasian Collared Doves from Mourning Doves, there are some key differences. Mourning Doves are smaller in size and feature black dots on their wings, whereas Eurasian Collared-Doves are larger and have a distinctive black crescent-shaped collar around their necks.
- Scientific name: Zenaida asiatica
- Lifespan: 10-15 years
- Size: 11 in
- Native to: Southwestern United States through Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean
Now, turning our attention to the White-winged Dove, this bird is characterized by its pale grayish-brown plumage, and it stands out due to a noticeable white stripe along the edges of its wings. It also features a short, square-tipped tail and a noticeable black mark on its cheek.
White-winged Doves have adapted quite well to human presence, making them a common sight in cities and backyards throughout Alaska. They readily frequent bird feeding stations that offer sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, milo, and cracked corn as food options.
Similar to other dove species, White-winged Doves have some interesting characteristics. When their nestlings are born, the parents feed them something called “crop milk,” which is a secretion regurgitated from the lining of the esophagus. Additionally, pigeons and doves have the unique ability to drink water while their heads are down, meaning they don’t need to tilt their heads upward to swallow, a trait uncommon among birds.
In their courtship rituals, male White-winged Doves sing to attract females. They produce a series of hooting coos, which can sound like they are saying, “Who cooks for you.” Often, the final coo in their sequence is longer than the rest.
- Scientific name: Columbina passerina
- Lifespan: 7 years
- Size: 15 to 18 cm
- Native to: Southern United States, parts of Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America
The Common ground dove is a small bird, just a bit larger than a sparrow. They have a plain grey-brown back with underparts that exhibit a pinkish tint. Their small heads feature a scaled pattern on the breast and neck, along with dark spots on the wings.
These doves are commonly found in Alaska, often seen foraging on the ground beneath bird feeders where they pick up fallen grains and seeds.
Interestingly, Common Ground Doves choose to nest on the ground itself. They construct simple nests lined with various types of grass, weeds, and other plant materials. However, nesting on the ground makes them vulnerable to various predators. For self-defense, they depend on camouflaging themselves within their environment and taking shelter in thick vegetation. When it comes to communication, Common Ground Doves are quite expressive and can be heard throughout the day, all year round. They produce a repetitive, gentle, high-pitched cooing noise with a rising intonation.
Final Thoughts on Doves in Alaska
Doves in Alaska bring a touch of grace and tranquility to the state’s diverse and captivating landscapes. These gentle birds, with their soothing coos and elegant presence, are more than just avian residents; they are an integral part of Alaska’s rich wildlife tapestry. Through our exploration of the various aspects of doves in Alaska, from the species you can encounter to their unique behaviors, it becomes evident that they hold a special place in the hearts of bird enthusiasts and nature admirers.