Red-eyed dove Streptopelia semitorquata, copyright Atamari.

Belongs within: Columbidae.

Streptopelia, the turtledoves, is a genus of pigeons found in Africa and southern Asia. Members of this genus generally have pinkish underparts and a distinctive collar of black or black and white patterning around the nape. The ‘Barbary dove’ is a domesticated derivative of the African collared dove S. risoria.

The voice of the turtle
Published 21 September 2009
Eurasian collared dove Streptopelia decaocto, the most widespread Streptopelia species in Europe. Photo by Rovdyr.

The bird genus Streptopelia comprises the turtledoves or collared doves—thirteen to seventeen species (depending on preferred generic boundaries) of medium-sized, generally pinkish birds that have long garnered human admiration due to their attractive appearance and cooing vocalisations. The name “turtledove” is derived from the Latin turtur, which is itself an imitation of the sound made by the doves. The calls of different species of turtledoves are distinct, and often play a significant part in their identification (Slabbekoorn et al. 1999). Streptopelia doves are native to Africa and the warmer parts of Asia and Europe, but a number of species have been introduced to other parts of the world. Here in Perth, for instance, the laughing dove S. senegalensis and the spotted dove S. chinensis are both abundant (the former particularly so), while S. chinensis is also a successful exotic in Auckland back in New Zealand. Also widely introduced is the African collared dove or Barbary dove Streptopelia risoria*.

*The Barbary dove “Streptopelia risoria” is the domesticated form of the African collared dove “S. roseogrisea“, and most modern authors no longer regard the two as specifically distinct. Streptopelia risoria Linnaeus 1758 has priority over S. roseogrisea Sundevall 1857. However, it has become common practice for the name based on a “wild” taxon to be given preference over one based on a domestic taxon because of the often complicated nature of taxonomic concepts in relation to domesticated animals (Gentry et al. 2004), and so many authors have preferred to use S. roseogrisea for the combined taxon. A recent proposal to formalise this situation was turned down by the ICZN (ICZN 2008), leaving S. risoria as the valid name for this species.

The Madagascar turtle dove Streptopelia picturata (aka Nesoenas picturata). Phylogenetic analysis indicates that this species is closely related to the pink pigeon Nesoenas mayeri (=Streptopelia mayeri) of Mauritius. Though distinct morphologically, the two species have very similar vocalisations. Photo from here.

In the past, Columbidae (pigeons and doves) have mostly been divided between two subfamilies, the Columbinae (standard columbids) and Treroninae (fruit-pigeons and fruit-doves), with separate monogeneric subfamilies for the morphologically distinctive genera Goura and Didunculus (and sometimes Otidiphaps) and a separate family Raphidae for the extinct dodo Raphus cucullatus and solitaire Pezophaps solitaria. This arrangement, never particularly sturdy at the best of times, has been blown out of the water by recent analyses (Pereira et al. 2007), which render the traditional Columbinae paraphyletic to the other subfamilies and Raphidae while the Treroninae becomes polyphyletic. To date, no-one has formally proposed a revised subfamilial classification of Columbidae, though Pereira et al. (2007) did recognise three well-supported clades in the family which they called simply A, B and C*.

*Because I have the comfort of knowing that no-one is going to take any notice of me in this matter, I can reveal that if we were to recognise these three clades as a subfamily each, they would become respectively Columbinae, Claravinae and Raphinae (going by the dates reported in Bock 1994), and I find a certain pleasant irony in the idea that Raphinae would be the largest of the three.

The collared dove Streptopelia chinensis (=Stigmatopelia chinensis). Originally native to eastern Asia, the collared dove has been widely introduced elsewhere in the world. Photo by Charles Lam.

Whatever the eventual division of the family, Streptopelia will almost certainly remain a part of Columbinae, as it is the most closely related genus to Columba. Molecular analysis of fourteen of the sixteen species generally included in Streptopelia by Johnson et al. (2001) identified three main clades in the genus—a large clade containing the majority of species, a clade uniting S. chinensis and S. senegalensis, and a clade containing the Madagascan S. picturata and the pink dove Nesoenas mayeri of Mauritius. This three-part division is also reasonably consistent with morphological and vocal distinctions within the genus. The two smaller clades were in turn sister to each other, but the monophyly of Streptopelia as a whole was not proven; depending on the chosen method of analysis, either Streptopelia was monophyletic (the maximum likelihood results) or the main Streptopelia clade was sister to a clade containing Old World Columba and the two smaller clades (the maximum parsimony results). New World ‘Columba’ species were the sister clade to Streptopelia plus Old World Columba whatever the method; their recognition as a separate genus Patagioenas was proposed. Johnson et al. (2001) chose to retain Streptopelia in its previous circumscription, but with ‘Nesoenas’ mayeri also included. In contrast, Cheke (2005) suggested restricting Streptopelia to the main clade and recognising the smaller clades as separate genera Nesoenas (for mayeri and picturata) and Stigmatopelia (for chinensis and senegalensis). Johnson et al.‘s (2001) system has the advantage of minimising the number of name changes involved; Cheke’s (2005) system is potentially more robust to the uncertain monophyly of the broader Streptopelia; only time will tell which gains the greater popularity.

Turtle recall
Published 24 December 2022

In the years since I wrote the above, the world of ornithology seems to have made its choice. The laughing dove and oriental turtle dove have been effectively banished to the segregate genus Spilopelia*, leaving Streptopelia the preserve of the ring-necked and bar-necked doves.

*Earlier, I used the name Stigmatopelia for this genus, following Cheke (2005). Apparently, Schodde (in Schodde & Mason 1997) had previously established the competing name Spilopelia as correct.

Feral Barbary dove Streptopelia risoria, copyright J. J. Harrison. The original wild form is generally darker in coloration.

Slightly more contentious has been the status of the name Streptopelia risoria for the African collared dove. As noted above, the ICZN (2008) rejected a proposal to deprecate this name, based on a domestic form (the Barbary dove), in favour of the wildtype-based S. roseogrisea. Though this decision was reviewed favourably by van Grouw (2018), it received push-back from Donegan (2019; it should be noted that Donegan was the author of the original proposal). Unlike some other cases such as domestic dogs vs wolves, there is little disagreement over whether Barbary doves should be treated as conspecific with their wild counterparts. Differences between the two are relatively minor and mostly relate to changes in coloration. Historically, there has been some debate whether the domestic Barbary dove is derived from the African collared dove or the Eurasian collared dove S. decaocto but consensus is now in favour of the former. Van Grouw (2018) describes a number of features of the Barbary dove indicating descent from the African collared dove. He also points out that Eurasian collared doves in captivity never become tame, even over multiple generations, whereas the African species soon becomes docile. Donegan (2019) does, however, raise the question of what the priority of ‘S. risoria’ might mean for subspecies nomenclature in African collared doves.

European turtle dove Streptopelia turtur turtur, copyright Charles J. Sharp.

Removal of the Spilopelia and Nesoenas species leaves Streptopelia as a genus of thirteen species that may be divided between two groups (Baptista et al. 2002). The European turtle dove Streptopelia turtur and its close relatives (the oriental turtle dove S. orientalis, dusky turtle dove S. lugens and Adamawa turtle dove S. hypopyrrha) are distinguished by their checkered wing pattern and black markings on the sides of the neck that do not extend around the nape to form a collar. The remaining species have more uniformly coloured wings and distinct half-collars. The European and oriental turtle doves are also exceptional in being migratory over much of their ranges: European turtle doves migrate from the western Palaearctic and central Asia to the Sahel region of Africa, oriental turtle doves from Siberia and Japan to more southerly regions in China, India and Indochina. Other species (and some southern populations of the two migratory species) are mostly sedentary year-round though the African collared dove is migratory in the northern and southern parts of its range.

Vinaceous dove Streptopelia vinacea, an African species, copyright David Cook.

The centre of diversity for Streptopelia is sub-Saharan Africa with eight species in this region. The remaining species are mostly found in southern Asia with the exception of the aforementioned European turtle dove. The Eurasian collared dove is found in both southern Asia and Europe though at least some authors regard the European populations as introduced. No Streptopelia species is currently regarded as endangered though the white-winged collared dove S. reichenowi occupies a restricted range along the River Juba in the Horn of Africa. Indeed, with introductions outside Eurasia and Africa of both the Barbary and Eurasian collared doves, the voice of the turtle may be heard further afield than ever before.

Systematics of Streptopelia
<==Streptopelia Bonaparte 1855CC10 [incl. Turtur Selby 1835 non Boddaert 1783T62]
    |  i. s.: *S. risoria (Linnaeus 1758)CC10 [=Columba risoriaCC10, S. decaocto risoriaFP64, Turtur risoriusCC10]
    |         S. lugens (Rüppell 1837)S05 [=Columba lugensS05, Turtur lugensT62]
    |           |--S. l. lugensT62
    |           `--S. l. funebreaT62
    |         S. reichenowiJT12
    |--+--S. capicolaJT12
    |  |    |--S. c. capicolaT62
    |  |    |--S. c. ancepsT62
    |  |    |--S. c. bailundensisT62
    |  |    |--S. c. damarensisT62
    |  |    |--S. c. dryasT62
    |  |    |--S. c. electaT62
    |  |    |--S. c. hilgertiT62
    |  |    |--S. c. somalicaT62
    |  |    `--S. c. tropicaT62
    |  `--S. vinaceaJT12
    |       |--S. v. vinaceaT62
    |       |--S. v. barbaruT62
    |       |--S. v. erythreaeT62
    |       |--S. v. groteiT62
    |       |--S. v. savannaeT62
    |       `--S. v. schoanaT62
    `--+--+--S. semitorquataJT12
       |  |    |--S. s. semitorquataT62
       |  |    |--S. s. erythrophrysT62
       |  |    |--S. s. maximaT62
       |  |    `--S. s. minorT62
       |  `--+--S. decipiensJT12
       |     |    |--S. d. decipiensT62
       |     |    |--S. d. ambiguaT62
       |     |    |--S. d. elegansT62
       |     |    |--S. d. griseiventrisT62
       |     |    |--S. d. logonensisT62
       |     |    |--S. d. permistaT62
       |     |    |--S. d. perspicillataT62
       |     |    `--S. d. shelleyiT62
       |     `--+--S. decaocto (Frivaldszky 1838)JT12, I92
       |        |    |--S. d. decaoctoT62
       |        |    |--S. d. stoliczkaeT62
       |        |    `--S. d. xanthocyclusT62
       |        `--S. roseogrisea (Sundevall 1857)JT12, CC10 [=Columba roseogriseaCC10]
       `--+--S. tranquebaricaBKB15 [=Oenopopelia tranquebaricaT62]
          |    |--S. t. tranquebaricaT62
          |    |--S. t. humilisT62
          |    `--S. t. murmensisT62
          `--+--S. bitorquata (Temminck in Knip 1811)BKB15, CC10 [=Columba bitorquataCC10]
             |    |--S. b. bitorquataL81
             |    `--S. b. dusumieriL81
             `--+--S. orientalisJT12 [=Turtur orientalisT62]
                |    |--S. o. orientalisT62
                |    |--S. o. agricola [=Columba agricola]T62
                |    |--S. o. meenaT62
                |    |--S. o. oriiT62
                |    `--S. o. stimpsoniT62
                `--+--S. hypopyrrhaJT12 [=S. lugens hypopyrrhaT62]
                   `--S. turtur (Linnaeus 1758)JT12, CC10 [=Columba turturCC10, Turtur turturCC10]
                        |--S. t. turturS05
                        |--S. t. arenicolaT62
                        |--S. t. hoggaraT62
                        |--S. t. isabellina (Bonaparte 1856)S05 [=Turtur isabellinusT62]
                        `--S. t. loeiT62

*Type species of generic name indicated


Baptista, L. F., P. W. Trail & H. M. Horblitt. 1997. Family Columbidae (pigeons and doves). In: Hoyo, J. del, A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds) 1997. Handbook of the Birds of the World vol. 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos pp. 60–243. Lynx Edicions: Barcelona.

Bock, W. J. 1994. History and nomenclature of avian family-group names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 222: 1–281.

[BKB15] Burleigh, J. G., R. T. Kimball & E. L. Braun. 2015. Building the avian tree of life using a large-scale, sparse supermatrix. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 84: 53–63.

[CC10] Checklist Committee (OSNZ). 2010. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand, Norfolk and Macquarie Islands, and the Ross Dependency, Antarctica 4th ed. Ornithological Society of New Zealand and Te Papa Press: Wellington.

Cheke, A. S. 2005. Naming segregates from the ColumbaStreptopelia pigeons following DNA studies on phylogeny. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 125 (4): 293–295.

Donegan, T. M. 2019. On the Barbary dove Streptopelia risoria and its wild ancestor the African collared dove: a critique of Opinion 2215 (Case 3380) of the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature (2008). Privately published.

[FP64] Fisher, J., & R. T. Peterson. 1964. The World of Birds: A comprehensive guide to general ornithology. Macdonald: London.

Gentry, A., J. Clutton-Brock & C. P. Groves. 2004. The naming of wild animal species and their domestic derivatives. Journal of Archaeological Science 31: 645–651.

Grouw, H. van. 2018. Streptopelia risoria and how Linnaeus had the last laugh. Bulletin of the British Ornithologists’ Club 138 (1): 11–29.

ICZN. 2008. Opinion 2215: Streptopelia risoria (Linnaeus, 1758) (Aves, Columbidae): priority maintained. Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 65 (4).

[I92] Iwahashi, J. (ed.) 1992. Reddo Deeta Animaruzu: a pictorial of Japanese fauna facing extinction. JICC: Tokyo.

[JT12] Jetz, W., G. H. Thomas, J. B. Joy, K. Hartmann & A. Ø. Mooers. 2012. The global diversity of birds in space and time. Nature 491: 444–448.

Johnson, K. P., S. de Kort, K. Dinwoodey, A. C. Mateman, C. ten Cate, C. M. Lessells & D. H. Clayton. 2001. A molecular phylogeny of the dove genera Streptopelia and Columba. Auk 118 (4): 874–887.

[L81] Long, J. L. 1981. Introduced Birds of the World: The worldwide history, distribution and influence of birds introduced to new environments. Reed: Sydney.

Pereira, S. L., K. P. Johnson, D. H. Clayton & A. J. Baker. 2007. Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequences support a Cretaceous origin of Columbiformes and a dispersal-driven radiation in the Paleogene. Systematic Biology 56 (4): 656–672.

Schodde, R., & I. J. Mason. 1997. Zoological Catalogue of Australia vol. 37.2. Aves (Columbidae to Coraciidae). CSIRO Publishing.

Slabbekoorn, H., S. de Kort & C. ten Cate. 1999. Comparative analysis of perch-coo vocalizations in Streptopelia doves. Auk 116 (3): 737–748.

[S05] Steinheimer, F. D. 2005. Eduard Rüppel’s avian types at the Natural History Museum, Tring (Aves). Senckenbergiana Biologica 85 (2): 233–264.

[T62] Tendeiro, J. 1962. Estudos sobre malófagos: revisão monográfica do género Columbicola Ewing (Ischnocera, Philopteridae). Memórias da Junta de Investigações do Ultramar, ser. 2, 32: 7–460.

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