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THE LAUGHING DOVE

14 August 2014

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The laughing dove Streptopelia senegalensis occurs widely in Africa, Arabia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and India. In Africa it occurs south of Sahara from West Africa and north-east Africa to southern Africa. As the specific epithet senegalensis indicates, it was first described as Columba senegalensis from Senegal in West Africa by Linnaeus in 1766. This type of dove is found widely in Africa and Asia. In South Africa it occurs equally widely although it has a patchy distribution in the more arid north-western parts of the Northern Cape province.

The laughing dove is relatively small, being 25 cm tall and weighing 100 g. The head and neck are mauve pink or pinkish grey, shading to grey on the back. Some of the greater wing coverts are cinnamon or reddish brown and others are bluish grey to give an overall cinnamon and blue appearance. The tail is black, the upper breast is deep reddish while the lower breast is pale pinkish. The belly is mostly greyish white to creamy white. Both sexes are alike and the laughing dove lacks the dark nape of the larger turtle dove Streptopelia turtur with which it may be confused. The black spots on the upper parts of the breast are characteristic. The bill is black, the eyes are dark brown and the feet deep purplish red. Sometimes laughing doves may show partial black colouration (melanism) and the general colour varies regionally as does the time of moulting.

The laughing dove is largely sedentary but shows some local movements. It flies strongly and swiftly and usually occurs alone or in pairs in moist, lowland woodlands; riverine forests and on cultivated land. It forages by walking around on open ground, but rarely does so under trees. When feeding on thistles it will beat seeds from a thistle by flying above it and then knocking into the plant. Otherwise it feeds on dry seeds, including the seeds of grasses and herbaceous plants. It also feeds on dried wild figs, broken oak acorns, gum tree seeds, small rhizomes, the bulbs of sedges and the nectar of the mountain aloe Aloe marlothii and the eastern tree aloe Aloe barberae. Small invertebrates such as small snails, termites, ants, house fly larvae and pupae are also eaten. Laughing doves drink water singly, in pairs or in small flocks of up to three doves from 10:00 to 16:00 during the day. However, each bird only remains at the water for a few seconds at a time.

The laughing dove is monogamous and territorial, does not nest colonially but does so probably for life. Permanent territories are probably also formed. It has elaborate displays and breeds throughout year but breeding peaks from August to December with a minor peak from April to July. The nest is built by the female from material brought in by the male but she rejects unsuitable material. The mean nest density is one nest per 0.19 ha, but there can be up to four nests in same bush or tree. The nest is a frail platform with a central hollow and is built of twigs, leaves and roots in multiple forks on a horizontal branch. It measures 80 to 140 mm in its outside diameter and is 30 to 40 mm high. The nesting hollow is lined with fine roots and a nest is often re-used. It lays one to four oval, white and slightly glossy eggs but exceptionally six, laying an egg in successive mornings only. Incubation starts with the first or the second egg of a clutch and lasts 12 to 14 days. Both members of a breeding pair incubate the eggs and usually switch incubating in the late morning and again in the afternoon. Newly hatched chicks have a dark, purplish skin that is covered with yellow down and weigh around 5 g. The chicks are well-feathered by 10 days of age and leave the nest when they are 12 to 13 days old but are still flightless for some three to four days more. Both parents feed the hatchlings by regurgitating food. Each pair raises mean of 3.82 fledglings per year. Predators and inclement weather cause egg losses. The longevity of a laughing dove varies from seven to 18 years.

Reference:

Hockey, P A R, W R J Dean and P G Ryan (Eds) 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, seventh edition. Cape Town: The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, pp 281 - 283.

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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