Apart from the Firefinches in our first Bird ID Tips post, another group of birds that Kenya Bird Map observers tend to confuse often is doves of the genus Streptopelia; especially the Ring-necked Dove Streptopelia capicola and Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata. These two are quite similar in appearance and occur together in many areas so it’s important to know the key differences between them for proper identification.
The first thing to keep in mind is that Red-eyed Dove is generally more common in moister and more densely-wooded areas than Ring-necked Dove. These include moist forest, riparian woodland and sub-urban gardens. Ring-necked Dove is the common dove of drier more open savanna and bush habitats. Red-eyed Dove is therefore largely absent from the dry semi-arid landscapes of northern and eastern Kenya.
Red-eyed Dove is larger and darker than Ring-necked Dove. If you get a good look you will notice that Red-eyed appears very pinkish below and dark grey above. Ring-necked dove appears pale grey or grey-brown in color, although in good light it can have a bit of a pink wash below. In general, Ring-necked Dove looks like a smaller and much paler version of Red-eyed Dove. At very close quarters, the Red-eyed Dove’s eyes are dark red with a red orbital ring but they just look black from a distance. Ring-necked Dove has black eyes. All feather tips of the tail are broad light grey in Red-eyed Dove while the Ring-necked Dove’s tail has pure white corners but the central tail feathers are entirely blackish. This results in a very different pattern when the bird is seen flying away and should cause no confusion.
In the highlands, you should be careful not to confuse Red-eyed Dove with the Dusky Turtle Dove Streptopelia lugens, which is very dark grey with a clear black spot on the side of the neck and has orange eyes with a red orbital ring. Unlike any other doves, it has distinct orange edges to some secondary coverts, and younger birds can be entirely scaled rufous (orangeish) on the shoulder.
In savannas and drylands, look out for 2 other fairly common Streptopelia doves: the Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis, which appears fairly colorful with an orange upper chest that has black spots; and the African Mourning Dove Streptopelia decipiens, with yellow eyes surrounded by an orange orbital ring.
Here’s a summary of the key features:
|Species||Habitat||Key ID Features|
|Red-eyed Dove||Well-wooded habitats, including gardens, in fairly moist areas. Absent from very dry areas.||Large. Pink below, dark grey above. Tail terminates in a broad grey band covering all feathers, completely lacking any white.|
|Ring-necked Dove||Savanna and other open habitats including semi-desert. Rare above 1800m .||Paler and smaller than Red-eyed Dove. Often lacks pink appearance of Red-eyed. Conspicuous white corners to tail.|
|Dusky Turtle Dove||Similar to Red-eyed Dove but only in the highlands above 1700m.||Very dark grey. Black spot on side of the neck. Dark orange eyes with red orbital ring. Rufous edges to secondary feathers. Very narrow greyish-white tip to all tail feathers, no white in corners.|
|Laughing Dove||Similar to Ring-necked Dove.||Small. Upper breast orange with black spots. Wing coverts bluish-grey and orange.|
|African Mourning Dove||Similar to Ring-necked but tends to be more common in very dry savannas. Mostly absent from the highlands.||Yellow eyes with an orange orbital ring. Similar in size to Red-eyed Dove.|
Some photos for comparison:
Red-eyed Dove – left. Notice the very pink appearance; and Ring-necked Doves – right (photos: Sidney Shema)
Dusky Turtle Dove – left. Notice the large black spot on the side of the neck, very prominent rufous feather edges and very dark appearance; and juvenile Red-eyed Dove – right. Black collar on nape, not a large spot on the side of the neck (photos: Sidney Shema)
Laughing Dove – left. Spots on chest not very visible as the feathers are puffed up (photo: Sidney Shema); and African Mourning Dove – right. Notice the yellow eye with an orange orbital ring (photo: Peter Wairasho)
Finally, always remember that the call of a bird is among the best ways of identifying it. If you can learn the calls of the different doves, it will become very easy to notice and identify them when out bird mapping. And of course ”when in doubt, leave it out” – only record birds whose ID you are 100% sure of.
Are there any similar-looking birds that give you a hard time differentiating them in the field when bird mapping? If so, simply reply in the comment section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org and we may do a Bird ID Tips post on them.