Because doves and pigeons mate for life, people in many cultures have attributed to them the qualities of loyalty, love and devotion, virtues that, sadly, have had paradoxically lethal consequences for these birds characterised (pigeon-holed?) as being gentle and unaggressive.

An example of the harmful consequence of favourable human sentiment was the Old Testament tradition that identified these birds as appropriate animals for certain types of sacrifice. Sin-offerings required the shedding of blood, and on such occasions when a dove or pigeon was used, the priest would use a finger and thumb to pinch off the head of the bird and spill its blood at the altar.

In his fascinatingly detailed book, Bible Animals; Being a Description of Every Living Creature Mentioned in the Scriptures, from the Ape to the Coral (available here), the Rev. J.G. Wood explains that in biblical times in celebration of a first-born son the sacrifice of a lamb was usually required as a burnt offering. However, for the poor, a young pigeon or turtle dove would suffice. And in addition, as a sin-offering a young pigeon or turtle dove was also required. Interestingly, for the convenience of worshippers, dealers selling sacrificial animals, set themselves up in the outer courts of the temples. Attendant upon them were money-changers, assisting those who had travelled to the temple from afar.

In discussing old scholarly writings on why pigeons and doves were chosen as sacrificial birds, Woods notes that the reasons include that the birds were considered to be mild, meek and loving, with their strict monogamy being an emblem of loyalty and chastity. Woods makes the rather acerbic observation that the Raven, much maligned and contrasted negatively with the Dove, was equally monogamous with a pair mating for life – a fact that was overlooked or ignored.


A pair of Redeyed Doves, a member of the Turtle Dove family, in our garden.

The “turtle” part of the name turtle dove comes from the Latin turtur, which derives from the Hebrew tor, which is imitative of the call of the dove. Woods records that the species of turtle dove used for sacrifice was the migratory European Turtle Dove, Stretopelia turtur previously also known as Turtur auritus.  

Even today the European Turtle Dove is a migrant breeder across much of central and southern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North African, spending winter mainly in the Sahel region in Africa. Worryingly, the numbers of this formerly common species are declining. BirdLife International reported in 2015 that in three generations (15.9 years) the population size in Europe was estimated to be decreasing by 30-49%, with a more severe decline in Central Asia. In European Russia the population has crashed by more than 80% since 2000, and in some areas, for example mountainous areas in Kazakhstan where it used to be common, it is now rare or even absent.

Declines are attributed to habitat destruction as well as disease, and hunting along its migration routes. Consequently, since 2015 its status has been uplisted to “Vulnerable”, meaning that it is considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild (see Birdlife International’s factsheet here).

Writing about endangered pollinators on her blog “Ecology is not a Dirty Word”, ecologist Manu Saunders notes (see here) that listing an animal as endangered can in a way be a “good thing”, because as a consequence protection measures are put in place and it raises much-needed awareness about species that are listed as endangered. One can only hope that this optimism is also appropriate for the European Turtle Dove.

But to focus on one of my favourite garden birds, the Redeyed Dove (Streptopelia semitorquata); it is another member of the turtle dove or Streptopelia (collared dove) family, along with the better known Cape Turtle Dove (Streptopelia capicola). Happily, it is still common to fairly common throughout its range in most of sub-Saharan Africa, even benefitting from some human-induced habitat changes. It prefers woodland and has adapted to exotic plantations and also to suburban gardens.


The Redeyed Dove mostly forages on the ground and eats a variety of seeds, bublets and also some small fruits. When available, termite alates are also eaten.

A pair of Redeyed Doves regularly hang out in our garden. We also see individuals at the bird bath – most likely the same birds but perhaps the territorial resident pair permits visitors to the bird bath. It is a solitary nester, and Roberts confirms that, like other doves, it is monogamous and mates for life. The male collects nesting material, mostly twigs and sticks, and the female builds the nest.


One day I was watching a pair of Redeyed Doves sunning themselves together on the ground in our garden. After a time the male starting collecting a few twigs that he presented to his partner. 

Usually there are only one to two eggs in a clutch. Parents take turns incubating the eggs and both parents raise the chicks. In South Africa, Pied Crows and African Goshawks may prey on the nestlings and the adults themselves are vulnerable to being preyed on by a variety of raptors.

The Redeyed Dove needs to drink regularly, and like other pigeons and doves it can drink rapidly by sucking up water without needing to raise its head and tilt it back to swallow as most other species of bird have to do.


A Redeyed dove, seemingly combining sunbathing with water bathing in our bird bath. 

The call of the Redeyed Dove is sometimes rendered as doo-doo, du-du, doo-doo, with some folks equating that to “I-AM-a-red-eyed-dove”. The call of the Cape Turtle Dove (also known as the Ring-necked Dove) is perhaps better known and is considered to be a characteristic sound of the African bushveld. I have seen its call represented as “Work harder, drink lager”!

The Redeyed Dove, like the Laughing Dove, is another relatively common bird with understated colouring, but still a handsome creature not to be taken for granted.

Posted by Carol



Wood, J.G. 1883. Bible Animals; Being a Description of Every Living Creature Mentioned in the Scriptures, from the Ape to the Coral. London: Longmans, Green and Co.

Birdlife International Factsheet.

Saunders, Manu. 2016. Sustainable Agriculture: Best of 2016 & the wooden spoon, from the blog Ecology is not a Dirty Word.

Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to

Roberts II Multimedia cover