What’s a White Winged Dove Doing Up North?

Learn more about the white winged dove, how to tell one apart from a mourning dove, and why it may be spotted far north of the normal range.

Is This Bird a White Winged Dove?

A white winged dove perching at a platform feeder.Courtesy Colleen Gibbs
A white winged dove perching at a platform feeder.

“This bird has been eating at our safflower seed feeder since mid-September. It looks like a white winged dove, but it’s way out of its range. What’s going on?” asks Colleen Gibbs of Coon Rapids, Minnesota.

Here’s what birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman have to say:

“You’re right on both counts: The bird is a white winged dove and it is far outside its normal range. White winged doves are related to mourning doves, but they’re mainly tropical and subtropical birds, common from the southwestern states and Florida, south to Central America and the Caribbean. They have been expanding their range northward in recent years in the Great Plains—they are now seen regularly in Oklahoma and Kansas. Wandering individuals have appeared a few times in most Canadian’ provinces, and even in Alaska. Still, it’s a rare and special event to have one visiting your feeder in Minnesota.

Check out breathtaking photos of mourning doves.

Mourning Dove vs White Winged Dove

mourning doveCourtesy Leah Ellenberger
Mourning dove

It can be tricky to tell doves apart, especially mourning doves like the one above. They may have very similar coloring and are around the same size and shape. Author Kelsey Roseth offers these tips. She says, “Mourning doves are sometimes confused with Eurasian collared doves or white winged doves. If a thick black band is present on the collar, it’s a collared dove. You can tell white winged doves apart by their namesake white wing stripe.”

Learn everything you need to know about baby mourning doves and mourning dove nests.

Migrant or Rare Visitor?

While the white winged dove spotted in Minnesota was a rare sighting, sometimes backyard visitors are less mysterious.

Naturalist David Mizejewski explains, “Sometimes reports of unexpected sightings result from nothing more than confusion about which species migrate and where they usually winter. Eastern bluebirds, for example, sometimes escape notice in the summer. So people can be puzzled to see bluebirds in winter, not realizing that bluebirds in the southern part of their range are non-migratory and spend winter in the same place that they breed.”

He adds, no matter the case, it’s good to keep your bird feeders up. It won’t harm the birds or cause them to stay longer than they should. Migrants take their cues from other sources, such as the amount of daylight, which won’t cause them to stay longer than they should. In fact, extra food may help birds survive winter if they get stuck too far north.

That’s especially true for hummingbirds. Here’s how long you should keep hummingbird feeders up in fall.

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Rachel Maidl
Rachel Maidl is a senior editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. She enjoys bird-watching in her urban backyard and local state parks, gardening for pollinators and researching new plants. Her favorite backyard visitors are the bumblebees that visit her sedums.