A dove is a bird in the family Columbidae, which also includes pigeons. In fact, the terms “dove” and “pigeon” are often used interchangeably, and there are no real biological differences between doves and pigeons. Most commonly, a smaller member of this bird family is referred to as a dove, while larger birds are considered to be pigeons, but there is considerable overlap and little consistency in how the terms are applied.
The word “dove” comes from a Proto-Germanic word, dubon, which means “to dive,” in a reference to the flight of the dove. Doves can be found throughout the world, avoiding only the dry and hostile Sahara and the extremely cold and dry arctic and Antarctic. As a result, many cultures are familiar with doves, and the birds have been used variously as game, pets, and messenger animals.
Doves have distinctively plump bodies, short legs and beaks, and small heads. Many doves also have tails which are longer than other members of the Columbidae family, and this is sometimes used as another criterion to differentiate between doves and pigeons. Like their larger relatives, doves can come in a range of colors, from drab gray to more exciting tropical looks like red and yellow.
Many people associate doves with peace, especially in the West. Doves have been used as symbols of peace and gentleness since the time of the Greeks, with white doves in particular being considered symbols of peace, goodwill, and friendship. The dove famously appears in the story of Noah and Ark, bearing an olive branch to tell Noah that the flood is ending.
Doves eat fruit and seeds, and many are very intrepid, skilled foragers. Female doves lay two eggs in flimsily constructed nests during the mating season, with both parents helping to hatch the eggs and raise the young. Members of the Columbidae family secrete a fascinating substance called crop milk to feed their young in the first few days of life. As you might imagine from the name, crop milk originates from the crop of the bird, and it is extremely rich and highly nutritious.
Many people like to keep pet doves, and as a result they are often available through pet stores and specialty breeders. Others simply enjoy encountering the birds in the wild, as these gentle, small birds can be a pleasant sight, especially in groups. Doves are also famous for their distinctive cooing vocalizations, which are used to communicate within the flock, and for flirtation with specific birds.