Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Thabazimbi district, Limpopo
Photo by Ansie Dee Reis

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) female.
Zaagkuilsdrift Bird Sanctuary, Limpopo
Photo by Philip Nieuwoudt

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) juvenile
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape
Photo by Richard Johnstone
Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) showing the rufous flight feathers.
Mkhuze Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal
Photo by Dave Rimmer

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.

SABAP2 distribution map for Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) – October 2023. Details for map interpretation can be found here.

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Auas Safari Lodge, Namibia
Photo by David McCarthy


Habitat – Mokala National Park, Northern Cape
Photo by Karis Daniel

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Sybrand Venter


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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Grunau district, Namibia
Photo by Johan and Estelle van Rooyen

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

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.

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis) Juvenile
Bontebok National Park, Western Cape
Photo by Andrew Hodgson

Further Resources

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 and Estelle 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

List of bird species in this format is available here.

Bird identificationbirding

Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis)
Bela-Bela district, Limpopo
Photo by Mark Stanton
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!