Although I love the four species of doves and pigeons that visit our garden, there are several other species in the country that I have missed seeing in these travel-free times. In this post I showcase the almost ubiquitous ring-necked dove (except in our specific neighbourhood it seems) and the Namaqua dove, which I have mostly seen in the more arid regions.

In our garden red-eyed doves (Streptopelia semitorquata) and laughing doves (Spilopelia senegalensis ) are among the most frequent visitors. Also around, but heard more often than seen are tambourine doves (Turtur tympanistria) and the usually stealthy lemon doves (Columba larvata) formerly known as cinnamon doves.

Pair of laughing doves in a garden in KwaZulu-Natal

A pair of laughing doves in our garden, showing their delicate colours and subtle markings

Much larger in size than laughing doves are red-eyed doves, but oddly even though they occur commonly elsewhere in the region, in our neighbourhood we never see or hear ring-necked doves (Streptopelia capicola), which are also known as Cape turtle-doves. Perhaps the reason is that ring-necked doves require more open ground for foraging than is available here, whereas red-eyed are quite at home foraging under trees. Although both species may retreat into wooded areas for roosting at night, ring-necked doves are absent from forests, whereas red-eyed doves are known to forage closer to cover including on the verges of forests (Roberts).

Red-eyed dove about to preen in a garden in KwaZulu-Natal

A red-eyed dove that I photographed while it was perching in our garden for a preening session

Ring-necked doves readily join other species to form foraging parties on the ground and such foraging groups are a regular feature in farmland areas. However, the photographs featured here were all taken in conservation areas.

Pair of ring-necked doves at Mabuasehube, Botswana

This pair of ring-necked doves I photographed late one afternoon in the Mabuasehube region in Botswana in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Ring-necked doves are usually seen on their own or in pairs, but they can join in large flocks when foraging as already mentioned and also at waterholes especially in semi-arid regions. Like all doves and pigeons, they are monogamous and a pair remains bonded for life. Should one partner die the survivor will seek out another mate.

The monogamous fidelity of doves and pigeons has appealed to human sentiment. Their association with loyalty has not necessarily had a good outcome for the birds themselves. For details on how this association led to turtle doves being used as sacrificial animals see my post Redeyed doves, turtle doves, monogamy and sacrifice.

Pair of ring-necked doves at Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa

This pair of ring-necked doves was photographed at the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape

At waterholes in the semi-arid regions such as Mabuasehube, at certain times of the day birds come and go in almost constant flurries. It is thought that such great activity by aggregations of birds of different species serves to protect individuals against predation by raptors.

On one of our visits, we sat and watched the birds coming and going at a waterhole near Mabuasehube’s Monamodi campsites. The majority of the visiting birds were two species of dove: ring-necked doves and Namaqua doves. In addition to butterflies and other insects attracted to the water, among the other species of visiting birds were shaft-tailed whydahs and Namaqua sandgrouse.

Ring-necked doves at waterhole, Mabuasehube, Botswana

The above photo provides a glimpse of some of the activity as birds arrive to drink and depart in quick succession

Doves and pigeons all belong to the single family Columbidae containing a total of 344 species (thirteen of which are extinct) in 50 genera. There is no scientific distinction between doves and pigeons and in most languages no distinction is made. However, in English the term ‘pigeon’ often – but not always – refers to the larger species of bird and ‘doves’ to smaller species.

Doves and pigeons are among the few species of bird that can drink by sucking and swallowing while the bill is still immersed in the water without the need to raise the head to swallow as in most species of birds.

Ring-necked doves drinking at waterhole at Mabuasehube, Botswana

Ring-necked doves at the Monamodi waterhole at Mabuasehube Game Reserve demonstrating how they can drink and swallow without raising their heads

Because they are so exposed to predators when at a waterhole, like most birds doves and pigeons drink quickly and leave as rapidly as they arrived. All members of the Columbidae are strong fliers and they have the ability to take off almost vertically – an acrobatic feat of note. They have large wings proportional to their body size and powerful wing muscles that comprise 31–44% of their body mass.

Ring-necked dove showing wing strength at waterhole, Mabuasehube, Botswana

Even though the rapidly moving wings are a blur in the above photo, the powerful thrust of the wings of this ring-necked dove is clear to see. Drinking in the background is a Namaqua dove with its long tail clearly visible

The Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) is the smallest dove in Africa and the only one with a long tail. In Southern Africa its distribution is widespread but in some regions, such as where I live, it is an uncommon resident and I have not seen any locally.

I strongly associate seeing Namaqua doves with visits to semi-arid regions, particularly in Botswana, and their most common habitat is semi-arid and arid Acacia savanna, and dry shrublands (Roberts). Where they are common they can often be seen foraging on the ground or perched in shrubs or dry branches, but the most spectacular sightings are at the waterholes where they go to drink in the heat of the day – consequently there are only rare opportunities for golden-hour photography of these birds drinking!

Ring-necked dove and Namaqua doves at waterhole, Mabuasehube, Botswana

A ring-necked dove pauses from drinking flanked by noticeably smaller Namaqua doves – a male (left) and a female (right)

The average length and mass of a ring-necked dove is 26–28 cm and 150 g and the much smaller Namaqua dove averages only 24–27 cm in length with a weight of a mere 40 g. While comparing the sizes of doves, it is interesting to note that the average size of red-eyed doves is a relatively massive 33–36 cm (length) and 250 g (mass). Laughing doves are a petite 25 cm in length but heavier than Namaqua doves weighing in at about 100g (Roberts).

Two male Namaqua doves at waterhole, Botswana

The black face, throat and upper chest of the male Namaqua doves are distinctive as is the yellow and purple bill

Male and female Namaqua doves, Botswana, Kalahari Transfrontier Park

The female Namaqua dove lacks the black markings and bill colouration of the male and is paler in colour, but also has iridescent spots on the wings, broad black and white bars on the upper rump and a long tail

Juvenile Namaqua dove drinking, Botswana

A juvenile Namaqua dove drinking at the waterhole at Mabuasehube shows its beautiful spotted and barred markings

Namaqua dove in flight showing rufous wing feathers

Captured in flight, a female Namaqua dove reveals rufous wing feathers

Namaqua dove sunbathing with wing outstretched showing rufous colouration

Unfortunately the bright overhead light was not in my favour when I took this photo of a pair of Namaqua doves with the male sunning himself with an outstretched wing exposing the rufous flight feathers that flash so vibrantly when Namaqua doves are in flight

Male Namaqua dove, Botswana

A male Namaqua dove at the edge of the waterhole turned and looked over his shoulder. In this photo the two black bars and one white bar on the upper rump can be seen

Two Namaqua doves perching in a tree, Botswana

This photo was taken in rather mellower evening light away from the waterhole

Namaqua doves perching in a bush, Botswana

But back at the waterhole these Namaqua doves watch rather warily before going down to drink from the relative safety of a distant bush. The reason for their wariness – a raptor had turned up and was on the hunt

The video footage below was taken from the car in the late morning with the sun blazing away almost overhead. Even though taken from a distance it gives an impression of the business of the waterhole as the doves drink almost greedily. In the second clip there is a sudden scattering of the birds.

We had noticed a lanner falcon (Falco biarmicus) perched in a far-off tree that provided a good vantage point over the waterhole. From that far-off perch the falcon would fly in low and at enormous speed, flushing the birds at the waterhole and trying to catch one on the wing as it flew up to try to make its getaway. While we watched the lanner falcon expended enormous energy with repeated efforts to make its catch but each time it came away with empty talons.

Lanner falcon perching in a small tree, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana

A lanner falcon photographed in the light of the setting sun at the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana

On one occasion as we watched the falcon take off from its distant perch I started filming the waterhole and so captured the lanner falcon flying in, but it flies in so fast it is actually very hard to see. So, I repeat the clip in slow motion but the bird is still a barely distinguishable blur. I slow it down again and at this very slow speed the falcon can be distinguished as it flies low over the waterhole.

Still from video of lanner falcon hunting on the wing

Above is a still from the video at the moment the lanner falcon flies over the waterhole, its reflection is visible in the water. In the first clip the lanner falcon flashes by too fast to really be seen, but seconds later its shadow can be seen as it flies back over the waterhole before returning to its perch

Male Namaqua dove, Botswana

And after each hunting attempt by the lanner falcon, a few minutes later birds would resume coming to the waterhole to drink – thirst is a strong imperative

Pair of ring-necked doves at waterhole, Botswana


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Posted by Carol