Backyard Bird Count: Doves

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Credit: Ralph Arvesen

We are not birders. We are bird lovers. Neither Kip nor I keeps a Life Count. And we’ve traveled explicitly to see birds just a handful of times. We most often let the birds come to us.

With just one feeder, stocked with safflower seeds, a suet cage, some hummer spots and a frequently cleaned birdbath, we’ve identified more than three dozen species in or above our backyard. Once a day, Kip, whose editing desk looks out over the backyard, hisses to me to rush and see something new or interesting.

We’ll start here with the five varieties of doves. For help, we head to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s essential All About Birds website. Photos are from



Credit: Ralph Arvesen

I can remember a time when this large, plump dove with the distinctive wing markings was the stuff of South or West Texas shrub country. It has moved emphatically into Central Austin. They are the most common dove at our feeder, which is weighted to reject the largest specimens. On the ground, they warn off others with a raised wing, but generally leave the smaller competitors alone. Once a month, a pair of Cooper’s hawks swoops in for a fat kill. Annoying in roosting flocks, solo White-Wings look quite lovely in their soft gray suits.



Credit: Larry Bond


This lovely, tapered dove with the descending coo-coo-coo was the dove of my youth in Houston. It is widespread across North America., but appears to be declining here in Austin, perhaps shoved out of the way by the larger White-Wings. You know when they are disturbed by the waxy sound their wings make.



Credit: Vince Smith

Smaller than the White-Wing or the Mourning Doves, this long-tailed, brownish bird rarely rises to the hanging feeder. Incas prefers poking around on the ground. I’d rarely seen them in Austin until we put in the food and water. Now they are daily visitors.



Credit: Dominic Sherony

When I mentioned to eminent nature guide, Victor Emanuel, that we had sparrow-sized doves with the dark, stubby tails in our backyard, he wanted to come over and see them. Not as common in Austin as you might think from the name. You could mistake Common Ground Doves for the Incas, but their tiny frames and short tails give them away. We see them rarely, but distinctly.



Credit: Ken Schneider

Given how often we see these urban pests above our backyard, we’ve never seen one land. Odd. No Eurasian Collard Dove, which I’ve heard are now all over Houston, yet either. Just a block away, nearer the Texas School for the Deaf, they mass in the dozens on phone lines. No idea why they our yard is verboten, but who’s complaining?

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