This bird's hefty size and rounded off tail give the "white-wing" the appearance of being half dove and half pigeon, hence the older name of "Sonora pigeon." Whitewings differ from the more widespread mourning dove in having an overall grayer plumage, a white-tipped tail, and the white wing epaulets that give the bird its name. The whitewing's flight also appears slower, less purposeful, and more pigeonlike than the mourning dove's. Adults can be distinguished by an unfeathered bright blue eye patch, red feet, and eyes that range from yellow-orange to orange-red. By way of contrast, birds of the year have dull purplish brown feet and are marked mostly in grays, whites, and browns. Adult males are especially handsome birds, their brownish heads crowned in reddish purple with areas on the neck flecked with gold, green, and purple iridescence. The average weight of an adult male is about 5.5 ounces, although birds weighing up to 8 ounces have been recorded.
There are two types of white-winged dove populations in Arizona, a thinly scattered population found throughout the Sonoran Desert and the surrounding countryside (including towns and residential neighborhoods), and colonial populations that nest collectively along river bottoms adjacent to agricultural areas. Most of the desert and residential area whitewings nest only once and migrate out of the state prior to the opening of the dove season on September 1. The colonial whitewings, however, usually nest twice before departing for their wintering areas in southwestern Mexico. These are the whitewings that are most often present after September 1, and which contribute most to the harvest. Males of both populations begin courtship as soon as they arrive in Arizona in late April and early May. By late May, nesting is at its peak, both sexes sharing in the incubation of the eggs and the feeding and brooding of the two young squabs, most of which hatch toward the end of June. Fed a highly nutritious "pigeon-milk" by their parents, the squabs are usually fledged by late June or July. Should grains or other high-energy foods be available, the colonial-nesting birds will now attempt another nesting, while the "desert birds" begin migrating south. As the second nesting comes to a close in late July and August, both the juvenile birds and their parents form gregarious flocks in selected roost sites adjacent to favored feeding fields, which unlike those selected by mourning doves, are often composed of standing crops of barley, maize, and safflower. The stimuli for the mass migration from cultivated valleys that takes place about September 1 are not completely understood. Summer storms, a drop in nighttime temperatures, food shortages, and harassment by hunters have all been suggested as reasons for the movement. Nonetheless, there have been years when all of these events occurred with little or no influence on the onset of migration. Once migration is underway, the departure is often rapid, the adults usually leaving before the juveniles.
Hunting and Trapping History
A favorable combination of nesting cover and grain crops resulted in two great heydays of whitewinged doves hunting in Arizona. The first of these was in the years prior to World War I, and the second was during the years after World War II. So plentiful were these birds that the bag limit was 25 per day and 50 in possession. Numbers peaked in the 1960s when, in 1968, an all-time record harvest of more than 3/4 million was reached. Since then, declining nesting habitat and the virtual replacement of grain farming by cotton and alfalfa have greatly reduced whitewing hunting opportunities. After reaching a low of 86,000 birds harvested in 1980, whitewing harvests have again gradually increased.
Updated April 2009