A common sight in cities around the world, Rock Pigeons crowd streets and public squares, living on discarded food and offerings of birdseed. In addition to the typical blue-gray bird with two dark wingbars, you'll often see flocks with plain, spotted, pale, or rusty-red birds in them. Introduced to North America from Europe in the early 1600s, city pigeons nest on buildings and window ledges. In the countryside they also nest on barns and grain towers, under bridges, and on natural cliffs.
Photographed in Bosque del Apache NWR
Originally a bird of desert thickets, the White-winged Dove has become a common sight in cities and towns across the southern U.S. When perched, this bird’s unspotted brown upperparts and neat white crescents along the wing distinguish it from the ubiquitous Mourning Dove. In flight, those subdued crescents become flashing white stripes worthy of the bird’s common name. Take a closer look and you’ll see a remarkably colorful face, with bright-orange eyes and blue “eye shadow.”
In the Sonoran Desert, nesting White-winged Doves eat mostly the nectar, pollen, fruit, and seeds of the saguaro cactus. They’re so dependent on the saguaro they time their migration and nesting to match its fruiting schedule. Saguaro seeds are the only small seeds that a White-winged Dove will bother with—possibly because they sit in a large, cup-shaped fruit that makes them easy to eat.
Like other doves and pigeons, White-winged Doves have some unusual abilities. They can suck and swallow water without moving their heads. And they use a secretion from the esophagus, known as crop milk, to feed nestlings. Both parents may consume snails and bone fragments to help their bodies create the nutritious fluid.
Although the White-winged Dove is mostly resident in the Southwest, it is expanding its range, and individuals can be found far afield. White-winged Doves have been seen from Alaska to Ontario, Maine, Newfoundland, and most places in between.
During the twentieth century, habitat loss and heavy hunting led to a serious drop in White-winged Dove populations in Texas—from as many as 12 million to fewer than 1 million by 1939. But with proactive management of hunting and the species’ ability to adapt to urban living, the population rebounded to some 2.2 million by 2001, and its range is still expanding.
In the early 1980s, the singer Stevie Nicks introduced millions of Americans to the White-winged Dove with her song “Edge of Seventeen,” which hit #11 on the Billboard charts.
Photographed at Bosque del Apache NWR where a large covey lives near the Visitor's Center.
Gambel’s Quail are gregarious birds of the desert Southwest, where coveys gather along brushy washes and cactus-studded arroyos to feed. Males and females both sport a bobbing black topknot of feathers. The male’s prominent black belly patch distinguishes it from the similar California Quail. This ground-hugging desert dweller would rather run than fly—look for these tubby birds running between cover or posting a lookout on low shrubs.
Birders in Hawaii may catch a glimpse of Gambel’s Quail on the slopes of Mauna Kea volcano. The Hawaii Division of Fish and Game introduced this popular game bird (mostly from game farms) to all of the main Hawaiian Islands in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Today a few remain on the Big Island, as well as on Lanai and tiny Kaho’olawe.
Gambel’s Quail are part of the “scaled quail” complex, which also includes California Quail, Scaled Quail, and the Elegant Quail of northwest Mexico. The species hybridize in captivity and in the wild; you can find Gambel’s x California Quail hybrids where their ranges overlap in southeast California.
Like many desert-dwelling species, Gambel’s Quail populations undergo a “boom-and-bust” cycle. A year with ample winter-spring rainfall that generates lots of green vegetation will yield larger clutches and an abundance of chicks. Dry winters mean less food and lower productivity.
Just before her eggs hatch, the female Gambel’s Quail calls to the chicks, who cheep to each other from inside the eggs. The eggs hatch in synchrony, with the chick cutting a neat hole in the largest part of the shell and leaving an intact piece of membrane to serve as a “hinge” — the chick pushes on the shell and opens the “door” that it has created.