Laughing Dove (Spilopelia senegalensis)

Cover photo – BirdPix 4242 Laughing Dove by Les Underhill.


The Laughing Dove is a long-tailed, smallish dove, typically 25 cm in length. It is rufous brown on the underside with a lilac pinkish tinged head and neck. The head and underparts are pinkish, shading to buffy white on the lower abdomen. It has a rich rufous coloured neck with black spots. Its upper parts are brownish with a bluish-grey band along the wing and a blue-grey back. Laughing Doves have white outer tail feathers and reddish legs and feet.

Main photo – BirdPix 70022: Mark Stanton, Segou, Mali, 01 April 2018.
Photo inset – BirdPix 98276: Lia Steen, Shellybeach, KwaZulu-Natal, 02 November 2019.

Other names for the Laughing Dove include Laughing Turtle Dove, Palm Dove and Senegal Dove while in Asia the name of the Little Brown Dove is often used. You can take a listen to its distinctive call here.


It has benefited greatly from habitat disturbance by humans. In southern Africa it is extremely common and widespread, where it can be found in several habitat types including: woodlands, farmlands, suburban parks, alien tree plantations and urban gardens.

Laughing doves
Laughing Dove habitats. Left – BirdPix 223568: Lappies Labuschagne, Middelburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa. Top right – BirdPix 221819: Les Underhill, Malmesbury, Western Cape, South Africa. Bottom right – BirdPix: 227672: Johan & Estelle van Rooyen, Northern Cape Province, South Africa.


The Laughing Dove is abundant in southern Africa, as it is found everywhere except coastal Mozambique. It has been recorded all across South Africa as can be seen in the Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP2) map below, with blue squares indicating the core of its range in the region.

Laughing dove distribution map
SABAP2 distribution map for Laughing Dove, downloaded 18 August 2022. Details for map interpretation here.


Laughing Doves are usually seen in pairs or small parties and only rarely in larger groups. Larger groups are formed especially when drinking at waterholes in arid regions. They mainly eat seeds, with fruits, bulbs and nectar making up the rest of their diet. Pairs can often be seen feeding on the ground.

Their flight is quick and direct with regular beats and an occasional sharp flick of the wings characteristic of pigeons and doves in general.

When breeding time comes around, the female normally builds her own nest, while the male collects material. The Laughing Dove lays 1-6, usually 2 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes, for 12-14 days, after which the chicks hatch. The chicks leave the nest at 12-13 days old, before they have even learnt to fly. At 3-4 days after leaving the nest, the chicks are able to fly, after which they become fully independent.

Nests and young of Laughing Doves
Nests & young. Top left – BirdPix 48837: Dewald du Plessis, Orania, Northern Cape, 20 April 2014. Top right – BirdPix 53560: Ryan Tippett, Maun, Botswana, 02 May 2018. Lower right – BirdPix 33838: Dewald du Plessis, Bloemfontein, Free State, 21 February, 2011. Lower left – BirdPix 31929: Rob Dickinson, Ogbomoso, Nigeria, 10 May 2016.
Laughing doves at a feeder
Enjoying the bird feeder! – BirdPix 101: Lia Steen, Roodepoort, Gauteng, South Africa.

Further Resources

Species text from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

More common names: Rooiborsduifie (Afrikaans); Icelekwane (Xhosa); uKhonzane (Zulu); Gugurhwana (Tsonga); Tourterelle maillée (French); Palmtortel (Dutch).

Recommended citation format: Daniel KA and Loftie-Eaton M 2022. Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis. Bird Feeder Project. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at

Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
Bird Feeder Project: Karis Daniel & Megan Loftie-Eaton
The Bird Feeder Project is a BDI citizen science initiative involving school learners and youth eco-clubs. Learners are taught a scientific protocol for doing 10-minute watches and recording the species they see, in the order they see them. The Bird Feeder Project includes an online identification guide to about 30 of the species seen in gardens in Cape Town. Students will learn how to upload their cellphone photos into the BirdPix section of the Virtual Museum, where they will be curated for posterity. The 10-minute watches will rapidly grow into a valuable monitoring database. Karis Daniel is the Project Coordinator and put together the identification guide, Megan Loftie-Eaton helped with the species texts.