Rich Ditch's Photography Blog

January 14, 2011

The Magic Number Three

Filed under: behavior, Birds, composition, favorite places, Gilbert Water Ranch — richditch @ 8:19 pm
Three Doves

Three Doves

Three” has always seemed to be a special number. Maybe it is the way it turns up in fairie tales like the Three Blind Mice, the Three Little Pigs, or Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Or in literature like the Three Musketeers. Then there’s the Three Wise Men and their modern counterparts the Three Stooges. There are many more examples and I’m sure you can think of a few of your own.

Three has also been a favorite number when it comes to artistic composition. A single subject is overworked, and a pair of subjects can be difficult to balance in the frame. But three subjects gives more options without overdoing things.

There are three closely related species of small doves that can be seen in Arizona: the abundant Inca Dove, the not-so-common Common Ground Dove, and the rare Ruddy Ground Dove. For the past couple of months all three have been hanging out at the Gilbert Water Ranch: feeding on the ground at the north edge of pond 5, or roosting in the nearby trees. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get decent photos of the two species of ground doves there with only moderate success.

I felt rather lucky on Wednesday morning, January 12, 2011 when I came upon this group of three small doves huddled together sharing body heat. I’ve seen Inca Doves do this on many occasions, even making stacks of birds 2 or 3 layers high. The problem, as always, was that these birds were nestled into the busy branches and could be easily spooked with any attempt trying to get within camera range. I shot from as close of a position as I thought prudent and hoped that my viewing position minimized distracting branches.

When I looked closer at my photos on the computer I was happy to see I had more than one species in the group. From left to right I think I have: Common Ground Dove (scaled feathers on the head with two-tone bill), Ruddy Ground Dove (no scaling, ruddy color), and Inca Dove (buffy color, scaling, long tail).

Here’s the same birds with a slight change of body position:

Three Doves

Three Doves

01/12/11, Nikon D200, Nikkor AF-S 300/2.8 plus TC20E (2x), ISO 400, 1/80th second @ f/5.6, Gitzo tripod.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has more speculation on the identity of these three doves. If you do please make a detailed comment explaining your identification.



  1. Rich,

    I think you may have hit the nail on the head. Crazy as it may sound.

    Common Ground-Dove almost always shows the bi-colored bill so the bird on the left is without a doubt a COGD.

    As for the middle bird, we really can’t see the bill color all that well, but there are a few field marks that really stick out here. First is the obvious more rusty red color than the other two birds. The second is the grayish crown. At this angle, it’s really difficult to tell how much lighter the head is than the body (helpful mark in Ruddy Ground-Dove) but we can also see the well defined, black spots on the upper coverts. Common Ground-Dove would display some markings on the coverts, but not this sharply defined black spotting as seen here. Ruddy Ground-Dove is a logical choice for the middle bird.

    For the right hand bird, apparent smaller size and structure combined with smaller, shorter bill and buffy color appear to give decent evidence for an Inca Dove.

    Crazy to see all three “ground doves” right next to each other on the same branch of the same tree.

    Comment by Chris W — January 14, 2011 @ 9:01 pm

  2. Rich, after looking at the three birds in the photo, I believe you have two species: A Common Ground-Dove on the left, a male Ruddy Ground-Dove in the middle, and a female Ruddy Ground-Dove on the right.

    I think the right-most bird is a female Ruddy because:
    1) it completely lacks the dark edgings to the breast, neck, and crown feathers that would create the scaled look found in an Inca
    2) the crown is a homogenous brown versus a paler ash on the forehead of an Inca that would faintly contrast with the scaled crown
    3) the tail appears to lack sufficient white on the ventral surface that is found on an Inca
    4) it’s hard at this angle, but the tail looks too short for an Inca

    If you take a look at two photos I took on 02 Jan 2010, it shows an Inca with a female Ruddy. The differences of feather patterns are more noticeable when in the same frame.

    Two other photos I took show the three species of Common, Ruddy, and Inca together on the ground.

    Lastly, two other photos show just the plain-breasted female Ruddy.

    Those photos can be seen at this link:


    Comment by Jack Holloway — January 14, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

  3. Great catch Rich!

    Comment by rondudley — January 15, 2011 @ 5:31 am

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