Ian’s Bird of the Week – Diamond Dove

Before I get to the Diamond Dove, I have an appeal to any members who have been on the Bird of the Week list since 2003 and who have kept copies of the postings. It’s a long shot I know, but I lost the text of some of the early ones in a hard disk crash and I’ve nearly finished compiling the first volume covering 2002 to 2009 of the ebook Diary of a Bird Photographer. I have all the photos but not the descriptions of: Red-capped Plover 9 March 2003, Bank Myna 1 June 2003, Spinifex Pigeon 2 July 2003, Leaden Flycatcher 29 July 2003, Australian Pelican 7 July 2003 and Noisy Pitta 15 February 2004. If you have them, I’d be very grateful if you’d let me have the text by email and the first six respondents who can provide each of the missing ones will get a free copy of the ebook when it’s published.

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) by Ian 1Back to the Diamond Dove. Having cut the recent camping trip short, I didn’t come back with the anticipated collection of photos of dry country birds, but here is one such species from earlier trips as compensation. This delightful, tiny dove is found in arid country throughout mainland Australia. It depends on the availability of water and moves long distances in time of drought. It’s comparable in length to its close relative the Peaceful Dove (both about 19-24cm/7.5-9.5in) but has a relatively much longer tail and smaller body. So it tips the scales at a mere 28-43g/1-1.5 compared with 41-66g/1.5-2.3 for the Peaceful Dove.

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) by Ian

You can see how small it is in the second photo where it is drinking with finches just after dawn – being a late riser I can’t help boasting when I get up early. There are two points of interest in this photo. The finches in question are Gouldian – there had to be a good reason for me to get up in the dark at 5:30am in Kununurra and drive 100km to Wyndham. There are more photos of the Gouldians here. The other point is that the dove is demonstrating the drinking skill of members of the Pigeon and Dove family, the Columbidae. They drink by sucking and swallowing and don’t have to first sip and then tip their heads back like almost all other birds do. Apparently, they can drink six times faster in this way, maybe a useful survival strategy in a very vulnerable situation. Incidentally, I also photographed drinking Crested Dove at the same spot 15 minutes later, by which time the finches had left.

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) by Ian

Diamond Doves have strikingly red eye-rings, quite unlike the blue-grey ones of Peaceful Doves, and small white spots on the wing coverts which give them their common name. The eye-rings are red in adults, and although those of males are supposed to be larger and brighter than those of females, and females are supposed to have browner plumage, I can’t find any consistent differences. The one in the third photo has a brownish wash on the wings and a very striking eye-ring, which would make it trans-gender according to those criteria. That photo was taken just south of Townsville. 2007 was a very dry year in eastern Australia (see below) and at such times, Diamond Doves may show up quite close to the coast.

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) by Ian
The bird in the fourth photo is a juvenile and has not yet developed the red eye-ring and red legs of the adult. The barring on the head and breast reveals its close relationship to the Peaceful Dove, but note that it has the diagnostic white spots of the Diamond Dove on the wing coverts.

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) by Ian

Regarding the Scientific name, Geopelia means ‘ground dove’ in Greek and refers to the feeding habits of member of this genus. Diamond Doves feed predominantly on grass seeds and usually very small ones at that. The specific name cuneata means ‘wedge-shaped’, coming from the Latin cuneus meaning a ‘wedge’. I suppose it must refer to the pointed tail, but it isn’t what I usually think of as a wedge-shaped tail, compared with the wedge-tailed eagle and shearwater.

Diamond Dove (Geopelia cuneata) by Ian

“cuneiform ground dove”

Needless to say, I couldn’t resist Googling deeper into the related word ‘cuneiform’, which refers to the wedge-shaped characters used mainly on clay tablets in ancient Mesopotamia and Persia. This led me to the website of the Pennsylvanian Museum which gives you the opportunity to write your initials as a monogram ‘like a Babylonian’. The above image shows the result for ‘DOVE’, clearly not just any dove of course but a cuneiform ground dove.


Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 ian@birdway.com.au
Bird Photos http://www.birdway.com.au/
Where to Find Birds in Northern Queensland: iTunesGoogle Play Kobo Books
Recorder Society http://www.nqrs.org.au

Lee’s Addition:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16 KJV)

These doves are quite small in comparison to other members of the Columbidae family. During our trip we saw the Western (Blue) Crowned and Victoria Crowned Pigeons, which are some of the larger members of the family.

The way they drink, by sucking is very interesting. I am sure the Lord had a reason for creating them this way. May have to research that some day.


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