Mexican turtle characteristics, habitat, reproduction, feeding

Robert Johnston

The mexican turtledove (Inca columbina) is a bird of the Columbidae family that reaches a maximum size of 23 cm and a maximum weight of 58 g. Its feathers are light brown, with black edges, which gives it a scaly appearance. Its tail is relatively large compared to that of other congeneric species.

It is an endemic bird to the New World with a distribution that ranges from the southeastern United States to Costa Rica. It inhabits the edges of forests, grasslands and savannas with scattered trees. It also supports human presence and can inhabit urban and suburban areas..

Mexican turtledove (Columbina inca). Taken and edited from: VJAnderson [CC BY-SA (].

This species occurs in pairs or small flocks. Breeds from April to October and builds a weak plate-shaped nest using dry straw, thin twigs, leaves, and other bits of vegetation..

The female lays two white eggs that are cared for by both parents for about 15 days until they hatch. Then they take care of the chicks for another two weeks.

Inca columbina It feeds on seeds that it actively searches in cleared ground or in low vegetation. Also ingest small pebbles to aid in the mechanical digestion process of the seeds..

Article index

  • 1 General characteristics
  • 2 Taxonomy
  • 3 Habitat and distribution
    • 3.1 Habitat
    • 3.2 Distribution
  • 4 Playback
  • 5 Food
  • 6 Behavior
    • 6.1 Flight
    • 6.2 Foraging
    • 6.3 Defense of the territory
    • 6.4 Pyramidal formation
  • 7 References

General characteristics

Inca Columbina is a small bird, as it only reaches an average length of 20 cm, with a range that goes from 16.5 to 23 cm, while its weight ranges between 30-58 g. Its body is stylized and has a long tail compared to that of other species of the same genus..

The body of the Mexican dovetail is gray-brown in color. In the adult male, the frontal region and the pectoral are light gray-pinkish, gradually changing to light cream towards the abdominal region. The dorsal region is darker, lightening in the greater wing coverts.

The margins of the feathers are black, giving them the appearance of scales, which is less conspicuous on the face, front of the neck, and chest. The central wheelhouses are greyish, while the lateral ones are darker, with a wide border and distally ending in white..

The iris is red, while the beak and face are blackish, and the legs are pink to red..

The coloration of the female is very similar to that of the male, but the scaly pattern is more evident on the head and chest of the male than on the male. Juveniles are more brownish on the ventral side and the scaly pattern is less evident on the ventral region, but more evident on the wing coverts..

Some specimens may present pigmentary abnormalities, mainly due to an increase in melanin, which is why they are darker than normal, even the scaly pattern of their coloration is hidden. There may also be abnormalities due to lack of pigmentation. In the following video you can see a specimen of this species:


The Mexican dovetail is a bird of the order Columbiformes and family Columbidae. It was originally described by Lesson in 1847 as Inca scardafella, but later it was relocated to the genre Columbina, in which it is currently.

This genus contains, in addition to the Mexican dovetail, eight other species of doves or lovebirds, all of them from the American continent..

Habitat and distribution


The Mexican turtle lives in savannas with sparse trees, in secondary or degraded forests, as well as on the edges of dense forests and in grasslands. The human presence adapts very well, seeming to prefer areas close to human settlements, parks, gardens and fields of crops. It is an important component of the avifauna of urban areas.

Mexican turtle walking on a road. Taken and edited from: Robert Kixmiller [CC BY-SA (].


Despite its scientific name, the distribution of this bird is not related to the location of the ancient Inca Empire. It is native to north and central America, found from the southwestern United States to Costa Rica, although its range of distribution seems to be expanding both north and south..

In Mexico it is common in practically the entire territory up to about 2,500 meters above sea level, except in the Yucatan peninsula. In the United States its distribution has been expanding, being limited by the presence of desert and semi-desert areas as well as by low winter temperatures..

Scientists have also noted the presence of the species in Florida, but indicate that there are no breeding populations in the wild and these seem to be maintained by frequent voluntary or accidental releases of specimens by poultry farmers..

Towards the south there also seems to be an expansion of the species. The first report of this in Costa Rica dates from 1928, and refers to a sighting in the north of the country. By 1964 it was common in the center of the country, and a decade later it had reached the southern border. Currently there are records of the species in Panama.


Inca columbina It is iteropara, that is, a specimen can reproduce several times throughout its life, and in most of its range it can reproduce at any time of the year. It seems to be a monogamous species.

Courtship is necessary for copulation to occur. Courtship behavior includes head shaking, mutual grooming, mounting of the female by the male, and fanning of the raised tail, also by males.

The mounted female may accept the male and copulation occurs or ignore him and the male must then get off without having achieved his goal. Vocalization plays an important role during courtship.

For the construction of the nest, both male and female participate in the search for branches, leaves and other pieces of vegetation, but the male does not take part in the construction of it, an exclusive activity of the female. This is shaped like a flat plate. Sometimes the nest is abandoned before being used.

The female generally lays two eggs that take 13-15 days to hatch. The parents then care for and feed the chicks for another 12-15 days until they leave the nest..

The same nest can be reused several times. The Mexican pigeon has a life span of about 7 years in the wild and, as we noted earlier, it can reproduce many times during that time..

Mexican lovebirds nesting. Taken and edited from: Len Blumin from Mill Valley, California, United States [CC BY (].


The Mexican dovetail is a granivorous bird, that is, it feeds on seeds and grains. These foods are protected by a hard structure, so the birds that eat them must have some specialization mechanism to digest the seeds..

Some granivorous birds, such as sparrows, have short, sharp-edged beaks with which they can strip the seeds of their protective covering before ingesting them. This is not the case with pigeons, which eat the seeds whole. In these cases, they should also eat small pebbles or pieces of rocks to help their mechanical digestion..

These stones, called gastroliths, are housed in the gizzard, which is a muscular part of the stomach, which is in charge of crushing the food. When this occurs, gastroliths would have a function equivalent to that of mammalian molars..


Of flight

The flight of the Mexican dovetail is short and uneven, with a strong and rapid flapping of the wings and a swing of the tail up, down, back and forth. This flight produces a characteristic sound that can be heard at more than 20 meters.

Researchers doubt that the sound emitted by Inca columbina serve as a danger signal for group flight or any other escape behavior.


Most of the seeds that serve as food for the Mexican dovetail are very small, which is why they are easily hidden in the ground. To clear them, the bird beats its beak against the ground three or four times in a row, kicking up dust at each opportunity and helping to clear the seeds that they will take with their beaks..

Defense of the territory

Mexican lovebirds are territorialists mainly in the mating season, when a couple defines their territory for mating, foraging, nesting and parental care, which is defended against interference from other organisms of the same species. However, aggressive defense of this territory is rare..

Nest-owning pairs defend their territory more vigorously as the breeding season progresses. The size and shape of the territories of these birds varies enormously, apparently depending on the important elements of the environment, such as availability of trees or water sources..

The first defensive behavior of the territory is the vocalization with a call or song of aggression. This call is accompanied by a fan of the tail, if the intruder does not leave the territory then the owner of the same can fly aggressively towards the intruder, and even physically attack him.

In the latter cases, the owner flies towards the intruder and raises his left wing and legs as a sign of attack and retreats the first few times, but if the intruder does not move away, he hits him with the wing, beak and legs. . Fighting is seldom bloody.

The male of Inca columbina It can also present a driving behavior of the female in which they fly towards where it is perched, as if wanting to occupy its position; when the female moves from this place the male flies to the new place occupied by the female and repeats this action several times.

Pyramidal formation

In winter, the defense of the territory calms down, and in the coldest hours the pigeons gather in flocks of up to 100 individuals. To rest, they perch in groups of up to 12 birds in the shape of a pyramid to better conserve the heat of all of them.


  1. R.F. Johnston (1960). Behavior of the inca dove. The Condor.
  2. Inca dove. On Wikipedia. Recovered from:
  3. Long-tailed dove. Inca columbina. At Audubon. North American Bird Guide. Recovered from:
  4. AnAge entry for Inca columbina. In AnAge: The animal aging and longevity database. Recovered from
  5. Inca columbina. Inca dove. In Animal Diversity Web ADW. Recovered from:
  6. F.G. Styles & A.F. Skutch (1989). A guide of the birds of Costa Rica. Comstock Publishing Associates.

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