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Zebra Dove
Geopelia striata

Peaceful Dove, Barred Ground Dove,
Merbok/Perkutut/Balam (Malay)

a pair on the ground, well camouflagedZebra Doves are the smallest of the terrestrial doves found in Singapore. They feed on grass seeds, preferring to forage on bare ground or short grass, scurrying about with rodent-like movement. Unlike other doves, they forage alone, or in pairs. Their coloration camouflages them wonderfully against the ground.

close-up (side view)They are more shy than the Spotted Dove and fly off into nearby undergrowth at the first sign of danger.

They appear to prefer open areas including cultivated parks, gardens and even in urban areas. They are also found in mangroves.

Zebra Doves roost at night high in trees and seem particularly fond of roosting in coconut palms.
Mangrove and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
Main features: Small (20-22cm); bluish grey cheeks and eye ring; crown, nape brown; upper parts brown with small crescent-shaped black bars; underparts pinkish buff with black and white zebra-like bands; bill pale grey; feet pinkish brown.
on a perch (front view)
Genders look alike.

Upperparts densely barred dark rufous brown; all flight feathers tipped rufous brown; underparts brown instead of pinkish buff.

Call: Described as a series of variable high-pitched coos; also a low purring note k-k-k-krrror bo Bo Bo

In flight: Flight is a characteristic bounding with nearly closed wings after a few rapid flaps.

Similar birds: Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis): The Spotted is larger; has on the back of its neck a black patch with white spots; and is not "zebra-stripped" as the Zebra Dove.

Status in Singapore: Very common resident throughout the island and North and South offshore islands.

World distribution: Myanmar to Australia. Introduced to northern Thailand, Madagascar, St. Helena and Hawaii.

Classification: Family Columbidae. World 310 species, Singapore 11 species.
Pigeons and doves do not have well-developed oil glands, which in other birds are used to waterproof their feathers. Instead, they have special plumes scattered throughout their body which disintegrate to produce a powder which cleans and lubricates the feathers.
Breeding: Zebra Doves breed in September to June. Zebra Dove males have a courtship display of brisk bobbing with head down and tail up, while loudly calling. They do this on a high perch, facing the female. As the pair sit side-by-side, he may sing.

Like other pigeons, the Zebra Dove nest is a flimsy platform of twigs and fibres, usually in a small tree, palm and sometimes in a bush. 1-2 white eggs are laid.

Migration: Although Zebra Doves may disperse widely to look for food or escape harassment, they are not migratory. Being a popular cage bird, they are introduced to many areas they were not native to.

Pigeon's Milk

The most fascinating feature of pigeons and doves is their ability to produce crop milk. During breeding season, special glands in the crops of both males and females enlarge and secrete a thick milky substance.

The chicks drink this milk by poking their bills into the parent's throat.

Thus, pigeons and doves can feed their young without having to incessantly hunt or forage for food. Instead of laying many eggs, they lay one or at most two eggs. Their abundance is proof that this feature gives them the advantage.
Status and threats: Zebra Doves adapt well to cultivated area and quickly spread to such places. Popular in bird-singing contests, wild Zebra Doves are often heavily trapped for sale as cage birds. Nevertheless, they are still common and not considered at risk in Singapore.

  • Perkutut Mall: info about habits, features about the Zebra Dove focusing on keeping it as a pet (in Bahasa).
  To buy these references & others, visit
Nature's Niche
  • Morten Strange, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Malaysia and Singapore: including Southeast Asia, the Philippines and Borneo", Periplus, 2000 (p. 143: description, voice, habits, distribution, status, photo).
  • Morten Strange, "Tropical Birds of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus Editions, 2000 (p. 25: habits, habitat, photo).
  • David R Wells, "The Birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsula: Vol. 1 (Non-Passarines)", Academic Press, 1999 (p. 338-340: identification, distribution map, habits, habitat, migration, conservation).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Pocket Checklist of the Birds of the Republic of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1999 (Abundance, status, Chinese and Malay names).
  • Lim Kim Seng and Dana Gardner, "Birds: An Illustrated Field Guide to the Birds of Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing Ltd., 1997 (p. 47: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, diagram, number of species).
  • G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook, "A Photographic Guide to Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", New Holland Publishers Ltd., 1995 (p. 43: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, photo).
  • Morten Strange and Allen Jeyarajasingam, "Birds: A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore", Sun Tree Publishing, 1993 (p. 49: description, distribution, habits, habitat, photo).
  • Christopher Hails, "Birds of Singapore" illustrated by Frank Jarvis, Times Editions, 1987 reprinted 1995 (p. 88: habits, description, status in Singapore, and lovely drawings of the birds).
  • Lim Kim Seng, "Vanishing Birds of Singapore", Nature Society (Singapore), 1992 (p. 8: status in Singapore).
  • M W F Tweedie, "Common Birds of the Malay Peninsula", Longman,1970 (p. 17: description, distribution, habits, habitat, drawing).
  • G C Madoc, "An Introduction to Malayan Birds", Malayan Nature Society, 1947 (p. 60: description, habits, habitat).
  • Sir John A S Bucknill and E N Chasen, "Birds of Singapore and South-East Asia", Tynron Press, 1927, edition 1990 (p. 55-57: identification, status in Singapore, distribution, field notes on habits, drawings).
  • Prof. Dr. Yong Hoi Sen (ed.), "The Encyclopedia of Malaysia: Animals"; Pigeons and Doves by Siti Hawa bt Yatim, Editions Didier Millet, 1998 (p. 52-53: habits and habitats)
  • Dr. Harold G Cogger (et. al), "Encyclopedia of Animals"; Pigeons and Sandgrouse by Francis H J Crome, Weldon Owen, 1993 (p. 334-336: general habits and habitats).
By Ria Tan, 2001