White-winged doves begin breeding during March and April depending on environmental conditions. As the breeding season begins, males begin calling and displaying for potential female mates. When a male white-winged dove finally attracts a female, she will fly to him, they copulate, and afterwards they preen each other. Within a few days, the pair will begin construction of a nest using small twigs. White-winged doves prefer native vegetation such as Texas ebony, Texas sugarberry, and huisache; however, in urban areas they readily nest in large ornamental shade trees including live oak and Rio Grande ash.
In South Texas, they nest in the citrus orchards that have been planted where native habitat once existed. Interestingly, white-winged doves rarely nest in mesquite, likely because the tree canopies are too open. The nests are typically between 8 to 30 feet above the ground, but several animals including hawks, owls, snakes, and feral and domestic cats, among others, still prey upon the eggs and nestlings.
White-winged doves normally lay two creamy-brown eggs per clutch and may have one to four clutches per breeding season! Eggs are laid a day apart with the parents taking turns incubating. After about 14 days, the eggs hatch resulting in little chicks covered in white downy feathers and closed eyes. The parents continue to take turns sitting on the nest and regularly feed crop milk to the nestlings.
Crop milk is similar to mammalian milk and is fed to the nestlings during the first week after which they are fed regurgitated seeds. These include agricultural grains, doveweed, leatherweed, and wild sunflower. Nestlings grow quickly over a 14-day period with their wing flight feathers erupting about two days after hatching; the tail feathers erupt a few days later. Beginning on the third day, the eyes slowly open over a two to three day period. Fourteen days after hatching, the nestlings are fully fledged and flight capable.
The parents may still feed the fledglings but if a renesting attempt is made, the parents will turn aggressive toward the fledglings effectively booting them from the nest. Over the next few months, the fledglings replace their primary flight feathers one at a time and the eye ringlet forms. Then the eye ringlet turns blue, it signals that the bird is now an adult. At this point, doves are not as prone to predatators, but they still have to worry about hawks and dove hunting season.
The white-winged dove is a unique species that has adapted to an ever-changing world. They have overcome great obstacles to their survival by changing with their environment. Several universities in Texas have studied aspects of white-winged dove ecology including nutrition, effects of pesticides and parasites, genetics, as well as nesting preferences, but there remains more to be learned about white-winged doves.