Cover image: Namaqua Dove by Neels Jackson – Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo – BirdPix No. 170565
The Namaqua Dove is a distinctive, small and slender dove. It is in fact the smallest dove in Africa and the only one with a long tail. The Namaqua Dove is sexually dimorphic and the sexes have strikingly different plumage colouration.
Males have a conspicuous and distinctive black face, throat and upper breast, the remainder of the head and neck is grey. The upperparts from the hind neck to the rump is pale brownish-grey. There are two black bands across the upper rump with a white band between. The tail is long and tapered with white outer tail feathers. The wing coverts pale grey to brownish-grey, with 3-5 metallic purple spots , that often appear black from a distance or in poor light. The lower breast, belly and vent are white, and the under tail coverts are black. The bill is yellow-orange with a purplish base. The eyes are dark brown and the feet are purple-brown. In flight both sexes show rufous wings.
Females are similar to the males, but have a blackish bill and lack the black face, throat and upper breast. Juveniles are heavily spotted with buff coloured feathers and dark brown barring.
The Namaqua Dove is not easily mistaken for another species.
Distribution and Status
The Namaqua Dove is widespread in the Afrotropical region, and is also found in south-western Arabia, and on Socotra and Madagascar. While clearly favouring the dry interior, the Namaqua Dove is found virtually throughout southern Africa. It is fairly common to common in the drier regions and sedentary in the more mesic parts of its range. They are highly nomadic in arid zones, where they can be locally abundant at times.
The provision of watering points in drier regions has probably been beneficial to the species. It seems to have declined in Lesotho and possibly in the Eastern Cape and other east coast areas, probably because of high human population densities.
The Namaqua Dove has a clear preference for dry to semi-arid open woodlands and savanna. It is also common in Karoo shrublands and dry grasslands where patches of scrub or trees provide nest sites. They are commonly found around farmsteads in arid and semi-arid regions. Of the dove species in southern Africa, the Namaqua Dove is the one least associated with human habitation.
The Namaqua Dove is usually encountered solitarily or in pairs, but larger groups come together when drinking. Perches in the open, on leafless or dead branches. The flight is fast and direct, and fairly low to the ground. Upon landing, raises the tail then lowers it slowly.
Forages on open ground, often along the edges of roads and other open spaces. Walks about with short steps pecking items from surface. Eats almost exclusively tiny seeds, especially of grasses, sedges and annual shrubs. Drinks water mostly during the heat of the day.
The Namaqua dove is a monogamous, solitary nester. Breeding has been recorded throughout the year with a spring peak in the summer rainfall regions and a spring peak in the winter rainfall zone. Breeding is more opportunistic in arid areas with erratic rainfall. The nest is built by both sexes and is a flimsy saucer made of twigs, and fine pliable plant fibres, and is usually placed low down in shrub or thorn tree, typically around 1m above the ground. 1 to 2 unmarked yellowish-brown eggs are laid per clutch. Oval. Incubation usually starts once the first egg has been laid and incubation is performed by both sexes.
This species text is adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.
The use of photographs by Andrew Hodgson, Ansie Dee Reis, Dave Rimmer, David McCarthy, Johan Van Rooyen, Karis Daniel, Mark Stanton, Neels Jackson, Philip Nieuwoudt, Richard Johnstone and Sybrand Venter is acknowledged.
Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).
Other common names: Namakwaduifie (Afrikaans); isiKhombazane-senkangala (Zulu); Maskerduif (Dutch); Tourterelle masquée, Tourtelette masquée (French); Kaptäubchen (German); Rola-rabilonga (Portuguese)
Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Namaqua Dove Oena capensis. Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at https://thebdi.org/2023/10/31/namaqua-dove-oena-capensis/