If you’ve spotted a pure white dove recently, you may be wondering just how unusual it is to see one of these snowy birds. With their bright plumage, white doves stand out against more common brown or gray pigeons. So are they actually rare finds, or is a sighting just a sign that you got lucky?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: While a completely white dove is not common, it’s also not extremely rare either. Selective breeding has produced more white doves, especially those used symbolically for weddings or as pets.

But even naturally occurring white variants of pigeons and doves can sometimes be found in the wild.

Common Species of White Doves

Rock Pigeons

The rock pigeon (Columba livia) is one of the most common species of white doves seen around the world. They are found in cities and countrysides globally, easily recognized by their blue-gray plumage and two bold black wing bars.

These resourceful birds originated from southern Europe, northern Africa, and southwestern Asia. Over millennia, rock pigeons have adapted exceptionally well to urban environments. They nest on building ledges, window sills, and bridge undersides.

Abundant food sources like spilled grain, refuse, birdseed, and handouts have enabled their populations to thrive.

Rock pigeons form large flocks that fly in tight, intricate maneuvers through cityscapes. Their flight abilities are superb – these birds can reach speeds over 75 mph! Males perform elaborate mating rituals like puffing up feathers, bowing, and spinning to attract mates.

Monogamy is common, with pairs reproducing up to six times per year. Each clutch contains just two eggs that hatch after an 18-day incubation period. Rock pigeons are very caring parents, both male and female take turns sitting on the nest and feeding newly hatched chicks.

While some view them as pests, rock pigeons play ecologically important roles. They provide food for peregrine falcons and other urban raptors. Their droppings also fertilize building rooftops, allowing hardy plants to grow amidst concrete jungles.

Mourning Doves

With their soft gray-brown plumage and distinctive long, pointed tails, mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are a common sight across much of North America. These slender ground-feeding birds inhabit open and semi-open habitats like grasslands, farms, suburbs, and parks.

They avoid dense forests and high mountain regions.

Mourning doves’ mournful cooing serves an important social function. Males coo to defend nesting territories and attract mates. Their nests are fragile platforms of twigs, stems, and grasses placed along dense branches or building ledges.

While camouflaged, mourning dove nests are surprisingly flimsy and often blow down during storms. But the birds simply rebuild within days. Both parents take turns incubating eggs and feed regurgitated crop milk to hatchlings.

These adaptable birds forage on open ground, gathering grass and weed seeds. They also visit backyard bird feeders for millet and sunflower seeds. Mourning doves are a popular game species, with 60-70 million shot by hunters annually in the U.S. Their populations remain stable due to their prolific breeding habits.

White Domesticated Doves

White domesticated doves stem from selectively bred rock pigeons and are often called utility pigeons. There are over 300 dove breeds with varying plumage colors and physical traits. But the most iconic is the bright white dove.

These striking birds symbolize peace, love, and the Holy Spirit in many cultures.

White domesticated doves are bred by aviculturists for utility purposes like ceremonial releases, magic acts, weddings, and dove shows. Their white coloration was selectively bred from genetic mutations of the ancestral rock pigeon.

White doves cannot survive long in the wild due to their lack of camouflage from predators. Additionally, they are vulnerable to more diseases than wild rock pigeons.

Despite this, white doves continue to be prized for their beauty and symbolic associations. And they are still commonly used for ceremonial releases, flying home to their handlers after the event. But avicultural societies recommend using white rock pigeons instead of selectively bred white doves, as they are hardier and better navigators.

Natural Color Variations

Leucistic Birds

Leucism is a condition that causes a partial loss of pigmentation in birds, resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of their feathers. It is caused by a genetic mutation that reduces melanin production and differs from albinism, which is a complete lack of melanin.

Unlike albino birds that have pink eyes, leucistic birds have normally colored eyes. Leucistic birds are not as rare as albino birds but are still unusual to spot in the wild.

Some common wild bird species with leucistic color variants include mourning doves, blue jays, cardinals, sparrows, crows, and robins. A leucistic mourning dove may appear almost completely white except for some gray feathers. A blue jay may have white patches throughout its plumage.

Leucistic cardinals are pale pink or peach colored instead of their usual bright red. The reduction in melanin often creates a mottled or patchy appearance.

The leucistic trait is a recessive genetic mutation, so both parents must carry the gene for it to be expressed in the offspring. But even then, only about 25% of the chicks will be leucistic. Leucistic birds face some disadvantages compared to normally pigmented birds – their pale plumage can make them easier targets for predators.

However, they can still thrive if their habitat provides adequate food, shelter, and protection.

Albino Birds

In contrast to leucistic birds, albino birds have a complete lack of melanin pigment throughout their bodies. This results in pure white plumage and characteristic red or pink eyes. Albinism is caused by a genetic mutation that prevents melanin synthesis and occurs rarely in wild birds, only about 1 in every 1,800 births on average.

Some wild bird species known to have albino variants include crows, sparrows, blackbirds, finches, swallows, and birds of prey like hawks and falcons. However, their bright white coloration makes them extremely vulnerable to predators in the wild.

Additionally, the lack of eye pigment impacts their vision. So albino birds rarely survive to adulthood in the wild and are very uncommon to observe.

Both parents must carry the recessive gene for albinism for an albino chick to be produced. Even when two carrier birds mate, only about 25% of offspring will be albino. Birds born completely albino typically do not live long.

However, some birds may display incomplete albinism, retaining small amounts of melanin in certain feathers. These partially albino birds have better chances of survival in the wild.

Selective Breeding of White Doves

Symbolism and History

White doves have long been a symbol of peace, love, and divinity in many cultures. Their bright white feathers and gentle nature have made them a preferred choice for ritual releases and visual symbols over thousands of years.

According to Encyclopædia Britannica, images of doves appear in ancient Mesopotamian art from as early as 3000 BCE.

The long history of reverence for white doves led to selective breeding to produce birds with specific desired traits. Key goals included a bright, pure white coloration, a gentle temperament, an ability to thrive in captivity, and suitability for release without flying away permanently.

Through decades and centuries of careful pairings, white dove breeds emerged with excellent symbolic visual impact and practical strength as quality pets and performers.

Breeds for Pets and Performers

Some popular breeds of white doves include:

  • Ringneck Doves – Small petite doves with distinctive black “necklaces.” Easy to tame and train.
  • White Utility Homer Pigeons – Larger sturdy birds bred specifically for release flights.
  • White Italian Owls – Among the most popular white breeds for pets with frilly head and breast feathers.
  • White Muffed Tumblers – Acrobatic flyers that enthrall crowds by tumbling through the air.

These breeds are bred, raised, and sold by specialty dove farms and breeders around the world. According to the American Dove Association, over 450,000 doves are supplied to the American magic and rental release industries every year for ceremonies, celebrations, memorials, and media productions.

Selective breeding continues even today to produce birds with ideal white color, body conformation, flying ability, and temperament. Advances in genetics have accelerated the development of newer breeds as well.

The all-white color remains pivotal, however, as it carries rich symbolic meaning for ritual events and festivities across many cultures even thousands of years later.

Spotting White Doves in the Wild

Where to Look

White doves, with their distinctive snowy plumage, can often be found in urban and suburban areas across North America. Here are some of the best places to spot them:

  • Public parks – Doves often gather in grassy areas and under trees searching for seeds and grains. Check areas near picnic benches or playgrounds.
  • Backyard bird feeders – White doves will readily come to platform feeders, hopper feeders, and ground feeding trays stocked with seeds.
  • Farms – Look for doves perched on barns, grain silos, and flying over open fields.
  • Roadsides – Doves will pick gravel along road shoulders to ingest grit needed for digestion.
  • Near bodies of water – Rivers, lakes, and reservoirs attract doves looking to drink and bathe.

The best time to observe white doves is in the early morning or late afternoon when they are most active feeding. Having a pair of binoculars helps spot them in trees and on rooftops. Listen for their soft cooing as a clue that doves are nearby.

Rarity Compared to Other Birds

The white dove is quite common compared to many other North American bird species. Here is how it ranks:

Species Estimated Population Conservation Status
White Dove 150 million Least Concern
Northern Cardinal 100 million Least Concern
Mourning Dove 350 million Least Concern
Bald Eagle 300,000 Least Concern
California Condor 500 Critically Endangered

As you can see, the white dove has a very large and stable population, estimated at over 150 million birds. That dwarfs the numbers of rare birds like the California condor. The dove’s status is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, indicating it is in no danger of extinction.

So while spotting a beautiful white dove may be a delight, you can rest assured they are still very common across the country. Grab your binoculars and head out to your local park to try glimpsing one of these peaceful backyard birds!

Caring for White Doves

Providing Proper Housing

White doves require spacious housing with ample room to fly and exercise their wings. The recommended dimensions for a white dove habitat are at least

Length 6 feet
Width 3 feet
Height 3 feet
. The housing should be constructed with good ventilation, perches, nest boxes, and easy access for cleaning.

Wire mesh cages are ideal as they allow sunlight and airflow. The housing area should be predator-proof and kept clean with fresh food and water daily.

Diet and Nutrition

A balanced dove diet consists mainly of high quality bird seeds and grains like millet, wheat, corn, safflower, and barley. Supplementing with vitamins, minerals, greens, fruits, vegetables, and some protein sources like cooked egg and mealworms is also important.

Clean, fresh drinking water should be available at all times as doves tend to drink several times a day. Feeding stations, grit supplies, and calcium supplements are also useful diet additions for supporting bone and muscle health.

Potential Health Issues

Some common ailments seen in white doves include parasites like worms or mites, infections, injuries, egg binding, digestive problems, and vitamin deficiencies. Being proactive with vet check ups, proper nutrition, and stress reduction can help keep white doves healthy.

Immediate veterinary care is advised if any signs of injury, weakness, or illness are noticed as doves can deteriorate quickly when sick. With attentive daily care and monitoring, white doves can live happily for over 15 years.


While a sparkling white dove may seem like a special find, several factors mean sightings in the wild aren’t as rare as you may think. Natural color variants, selective breeding, and released domestic doves all contribute to periodic white dove spottings.

So if you spot one of these graceful white birds, enjoy the moment – you may have gotten lucky, but a white dove isn’t quite as unusual as it appears.

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