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The Cape turtle dove

1 October 2014

www.leopard.tvThe high-pitched, crooning call of the Cape turtle dove Streptopelia capicola is characteristic of South Africa because it occurs from the most arid to the wetter eastern regions. Nevertheless, it never calls when it rains of there is a strong wind and is therefore a call that symbolizes peace and tranquillity. The Cape turtle dove was first described scientifically in 1857 by Sundevall as Columban vinaceum var capicolum based on a specimen from Rondebosch in Cape Town and the specific epithet capicola is Latin for an inhabitant of the Cape. Yet it occurs over all of Africa and is only absent from true deserts such as the Sahara and Namib Deserts.

The Cape turtle dove is a small dove of 26 to 28 cm and weighs around 150 g and the sexes look alike. The head and back are grey-blue with a pinkish tint on the nape and a distinct narrow, black collar behind the neck. It is pinkish to lavender or lavender-grey below, has a dark grey to black bill, dark brown to pinkish legs and dark brown to black eyes. The eye colour distinguishes it from the related mourning dove which has a red patch of skin around yellow eyes and the red-eyed dove which has orange to red eyes and a dull purplish patch of skin around the eye.

The Cape turtle dove is common but it has a 35 percent rate of mortality in the adults and one of 65 percent in the young birds because it has a wide range of mammalian, avian and reptilian predators. It is also sometimes killed when flying into power lines. In tropical and possibly arid regions it moves around seasonally but in the wetter temperate regions it is sedentary. When local movements do occur they are not known to be more than 92 km in extent. The habitat consists of any type of woodland, including pine plantations.

In habits the Cape turtle dove lives alone or in pairs, but it will form large flocks at desert waterholes. In semi-arid regions it drinks water at any time of the day, but usually does so early in the morning and late in the afternoon. It flies to a waterhole alone but will perch in a tree near it to wait for more doves to arrive before all going down to the water. This is done to minimize predation by raptors that may become confused by a flock of birds flying up together. At night, Cape turtle doves roost in isolated groves of trees but they sometimes form large roosting flocks.

The Cape turtle dove mainly forages with other birds for food on the open ground early in the morning and late in the afternoon. It may also forage in the intertidal zone close to the ocean. The food consists mainly of the dry seeds of grasses, cereals, lupins, mikweed (Euphorbia spp) and alien plants such as rooikrans Acacia cyclops, Port Jackson willow Acacia saligna and various types of wattle and pine. It also eats the bulbs of sedges and some indigenous bushes, earthworms, termites, weevils, aphids and foot-soldier locusts.

Breeding happens year-round and each dove has a territory of some 0.5 ha in the Eastern Cape woodlands. When a breeding partner dies another one replaces it. The nest is built by the female, usually in seven to eight days, with material that is brought to her by the male. The nest is a frail platform of twigs and leaf petioles (the bases of leaves) with a shallow depression that is lined with grass, fine roots and pine needles. A nest usually has an outer diameter of some 130 to 150 mm and in exceptional cases can be as high as 70 mm. Broken nests may be repaired and re-used, while the old nests of other birds may at times be used. The nest is usually well hidden in foliage on a horizontal fork in a tree or bush.

Eggs are laid year-round, although mainly from August to November in the winter rainfall areas and from February to June in the summer rainfall ones. One to two, but sometimes up to four, oval, white glossy eggs are laid at a time. Incubation by both adults starts with the first egg being laid and lasts 13 to 16 days although the male usually only incubates the eggs from 10:00 to 16:00 to allow the female to feed. All the eggs hatch on the same day and newly hatched chicks have a dark mauve skin that is covered with yellowish to cream down. The eyes open at seven days of age and body feathers appear at ten days of age. The nestling period lasts 16 to 17 days but nestlings are cared for by the adults for 12 days after leaving the nest. Only some 30 to 40 percent of all eggs that are laid lead to flying young, with predators, inclement weather, wind and nest desertion by the adults being the main causes of nestling mortality.

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 284 - 286.

 

Article by Prof J du P Bothma

 

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