Spotted Dove that lost its tail feathers

on 17th May 2011

In early May 2011, one of the pair of Spotted Doves that has been visiting my garden regularly arrived with only a single tail feather. Its partner still has the full complement of tail feathers. This single-tailed dove is relatively tame, entering the house whenever I forgets to feed it. It allows me to approach within half a metre from it. Any nearer and it would run away. But it can still fly, although clumsily. Alter all, flight depends mainly on the wing feathers. Tail feathers on the other hand play an important role in controlled landing.

Obviously the loss of so many tail feathers at the same time in this dove was probably a result of shock moult, also known as fright moult. The bird could have been grabbed by a predator, most probably a human.

Aviculturist Lee Chiu San agrees that the tail feathers could have been lost due to the dove trying to escape capture. According to him, ”…some birds have feathers securely anchored. Others have feathers that come off very easily. This could be a defence mechanism. A very general rule of thumb is, if the bird is able to bite back, its feathers do not detach easily. If the bird does not have the ability to bite, it is better to lose the feathers while the rest of the bird gets away rather than continue to be stuck to the feathers and be eaten. In aviculture, I try as far as possible not to handle doves because they shed feathers like snowstorms.”

YC Wee & Lee Chiu San
May 2011

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

3 Responses

  1. Total loss of tail feathers seem to affect the birds ability to gain altitude with distance flown.

    I once tried to help a starling that appeared a bit lost and without its entire set of tail feathers.

    I only managed to fly up to a chest high bush with tremendous effort. Finally it made a straight flight across the road and only managed to gain not more than 1-2 metres in height despite very strong wing strokes.

    Its ability to stear precisely as it approaces to land was also compromised by the loss of the tail which resulted in a very clumsy landing, totally missing the first perch it had targeted.

    For Spotted Doves, the tail feathers seem to play smaller part in high speed cruise flight. The tail acts as a speed brake when it needs to slow down rapidly and at the same time act as a rudder / elevator to maneuver at low speeds.

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