Reddish brown bordering on maroon in certain light conditions -- wow! "What is that beautiful bird," asks a first time visitor on one of IE's Galapagos Islands cruises. Then a second bird appears, walking slowly, bobbing its head with each stride and...how can it do that? It is walking on the pad of a prickly pear cactus. The naturalist guide arrives and says that is our endemic dove called -- you guessed it -- a Galapagos Dove!
The Galapagos dove is indeed a lovely bird, and they are frequently observed in pairs. At times they approach visitors very closely as they, like many other forms of wildlife in the Galapagos, have little fear of people. In addition to their gorgeous plumage, the Galapagos dove also has bright red feet, a bright blue eye ring and below and to the rear of the eye is a cream colored stripe. These little doves are quite abundant in the lower elevations, thus they are frequently observed by visitors at various landing sites along a typical Galapagos cruise. Galapagos doves tend to feed mainly on seeds with a preference for Opuntia cactus seeds and will also eat the pulp, which most likely provides the birds with moisture due to the lack of fresh water on many of the islands.
During the very early years, prior to tourism and protection of species on the islands, many thousands of Galapagos doves were killed and eaten by sea farers. There is a report by the late Roger Tory Peterson that in 1965, 10 men ate 9,000 doves in three months. (Galapagos Natural History1993, Michael H Jackson)
Nesting can take place any time of the year and appears to coincide with the production of Opuntia seeds, thus it can be at different times of the year from one island to the next. The little doves nest on the ground and typically lay only two eggs. The young, upon growing feathers, are much duller than the adults and do not get their gorgeous feathers until their second year.
Doves are species of birds that are often overlooked by the typical traveler, but I hope that anyone making a journey to the Galapagos will stop and smell the roses. Or, in this case, stop and observe the beautiful little Galapagos doves. They may just change a person’s mind about the appearance of what would be called a "typical" dove.
Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history, photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.