Because the Lemon Dove forages discreetly on the ground or in the shrubby understorey it is often overlooked. It occurs in forest habitats and also in gardens that are well wooded.

I was thrilled when I first saw a Lemon Dove in our garden. I kept a look out for it after that, but seldom saw it as it kept well within the undergrowth. After a time, I noticed that one seemed to be hanging out in the mini-woodland section of our garden where it became a little more habituated to our presence.  So, one day when gardening in that part of the garden I kept my camera handy and when I thought I saw the dove I crept into the undergrowth and lay down.  Just when I was about to give up it started approaching, and through the intervening undergrowth, I managed to take a few photos.

Lemon Dove (Cinnamon Dove) foraging in leaf litter on the forest floor

Unaware of my presence, the Lemon Dove was foraging for tiny fallen fruits in the leaf litter

Lemon Dove (Cinnamon Dove) in woodland understorey, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

It came really close and for a moment it seemed to acknowledge my presence before turning away to continue in its quest for food

Lemon Doves usually forage singly or in pairs. This spring, a pair of Lemon Doves has started to forage confidently under trees on the edges of our patch of woodland and so relatively out in the open they have been easier to see. Lemon Doves are largish doves, about the size of a Red-eyed Dove. The have a fairly conspicuous pale forehead and face and are cinnamon-coloured on their bellies. The female is slight duller in colour than the male. They are monogamous birds and both parents raise their young together.

4 Lemon Dove calling

For the first time only recently I saw a Lemon Dove perched out in the open while calling its deep repetitive woop-woop call. The call is resonant rather than loud. The previous name for this dove was Cinnamon Dove, descriptive of its cinnamon-coloured belly

Lemon Doves are fairly common in the appropriate habitat, but shrinking forests are a cause for concern. Well-manicured and sterile gardens are unlikely to attract these (and many other) gorgeous birds. If any bird is likely to persuade gardening neat-freaks to loosen up and go a bit wild, surely this lovely bird is a likely persuader? Who would not want to provide a haven for such a creature, given half a chance? 

Lemon Dove (Cinnamon Dove) bathing in a garden birdbath, South Africa

The bird books say that Lemon Doves drink regularly at forest streams, and they also take advantage of any garden bird baths in their territory. However, it was only recently that I saw a Lemon Dove making use of one of our bird baths

6 Lemon Dove

Bathing was done thoroughly. On this hot spring day the dove seemed to enjoy the coolness of the water. In between several vigorous dips that soaked its breast feathers, it stayed for several minutes, sometimes preening or scratching, but mostly just cooling off

Lemon Dove (Cinnamon Dove) in birdbath

When it had finished bathing and soaking itself, it flew up onto a low perch and then dropped to the ground and scurried off with the posture of a small quail rather than a rather bulky dove

Lemon Doves are found in forested or wooded habitats in many countries across Sub-Saharan Africa.  They mainly eat fruits and seeds, but they also eat snails, termites and other insects, snails, and small bulbs and tubers. I feel very lucky when I see them around.

Lemon Dove (Cinnamon Dove) KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Sources:  Hugh Chittenden, Greg Davies, Ingrid Weiersbye. 2016. Roberts Bird Guide: Illustrating nearly 1,000 Species in Southern Africa (2nd edition). Cape Town: Jacana;  Roberts VII Multimedia PC Edition.  1997-2016 Southern African Birding. For details go to

Posted by Carol

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