Grey-headed quail-dove -- 灰头鹑鸠 (Geotrygon caniceps)

Grey-headed quail dove walking on forest floor
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Grey-headed quail-dove fact file

Grey-headed quail-dove description

GenusGeotrygon (1)

An attractive mid-sized pigeon, the distinctive grey-headed quail-dove has a purplish iridescent sheen on the upper back, and a glossy blue across the shoulders. The otherwise drab coloured plumage, as the common name suggests, is largely grey, although the rump is a blue-green, while the underside of the tail and the vent may have a tinge of rufuous-chestnut (2) (3). In common with most pigeons, the sexes are very similar, but juveniles have a darker plumage, with a brownish-grey forehead and pale grey throat (2). The grey-headed quail-dove has a characteristic pigeon body-shape, with a heavy, stocky build, a short, thick bill and a plumage of dense, soft feathers (4).

Two subspecies of the grey-headed quail-dove are often recognised.  Geotrygon caniceps leucometopius is distinguished from the nominate subspecies, G. c. caniceps, by a white forehead, and a darker plumage, with richer iridescence (2). There is some evidence to suggest that the two subspecies may actually be separate species, due to significant differences in plumage colouration, and tail length (5). However, until further evidence is obtained, the taxonomic status of the grey-headed quail-dove will remain an enigma (3).        

Male head-body length: 26 – 30 cm (2)
Average female head-body length: 27 cm (2)
Average weight: 210 g (2)

Grey-headed quail-dove biology

The grey-headed quail-dove consumes seeds gathered from the ground in open clearings, and breaks them down using its strong, muscular gizzard, sometimes ingesting grit to aid in digestion (2) (4). It will also feed upon small invertebrates, especially during the breeding season (2) (4). The grey-headed quail-dove requires regular access to water, and may fly considerable distances, especially at dawn and dusk, to water sources. Whilst drinking, it fully immerses its bill, and sucks the water without raising its head, a behaviour characteristic of pigeons (4)

Pigeons are monogamous, and the grey-headed quail-dove mates with the same partner most seasons. At the start of the breeding season, the male bird will call to the female, using simple, monotonous notes. The elaborate iridescent patch on the upper back may also be used by the male in courtship displays, which reinforces the bond between partners (4). Breeding takes place between January and August, and a simple nest of loosely arranged leaves is constructed amongst the undergrowth on the ground. A clutch of one or two unmarked, beige-coloured eggs is subsequently incubated for around 13 days (2).  


Grey-headed quail-dove range

The grey-headed quail-dove is found on the Caribbean islands of Cuba and the Dominican Republic. On Cuba, it is largely found in the west and centre, and is most abundant on the Zapata Peninsular and Sierra del Rosario. On the Dominican Republic, it is found on the Cordillera Central and the Sierra de Baoruco mountain ranges. The grey-headed quail-dove is likely to have formerly occurred in Haiti, with a historical record from the 1920s near the summit of Morne La Selle, but is most likely now extinct there (3). The nominate subspecies is endemic to Cuba, while G. c. leucometopius is now confined to the Dominican Republic (2).      


Grey-headed quail-dove habitat

On Cuba, the grey-headed quail-dove inhabits humid, lowland riparian forest, bordering swamps, and mid-elevation, limestone based montane forest. On the Dominican Republic, it is largely found in dense, montane tropical forest and coffee plantations, up to 1,800 metres, but can also be found in sea-level forests at a couple of locations (3).   


Grey-headed quail-dove status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Grey-headed quail-dove threats

The island of Cuba supports a rich diversity of birdlife, with a total of 25 bird species endemic to the island. As a result, the island is designated as a BirdLife International Endemic Bird Area (EBA), highlighting the importance of the island’s landscape for bird conservation. However, due to a history of unsustainable activities, such as logging, and encroaching urbanisation, only 15 to 20 percent of the land remains in its natural state. Much of the forest has been converted to coffee and tobacco plantations, while the expansion of agricultural land, using slash-and-burn techniques, has destroyed vast areas of lowland forest. As a direct consequence, many of Cuba’s birds, which were once widespread, are now extremely rare and threatened with extinction (6).   

The Dominican Republic also harbours a vast array of bird species. The island of Hispaniola (consisting of Haiti and the Dominican Republic) supports 31 endemic bird species, and is also designated as an EBA. However, only 10 percent of the Dominican Republic remains forested, while tragically, only 1.5 percent of Haiti’s landscape is forested.  These saddening figures make Hispaniola one of the most environmentally degraded areas in the world (7) (8)

In the face of such severe habitat loss, the grey-headed quail-dove has undergone a rapid decline, and only a small population, estimated between 2,500 and 10,000 birds, remains. Habitat loss can be attributed as the main cause behind the extirpation of the species from Haiti and the Sierra de Neiba in the Dominican Republic, while it may be near-extinction on Cordillera Central (3). In Cuba, the grey-headed quail-dove is also threatened by hunting with baited traps, while the introduction of domestic cats throughout its range may increase mortality (3) (9). In the Zapata Peninsular, the grey-headed quail-dove is threatened by dry season fires, the drainage of wetland areas, and predation by introduced predators, such as mongooses and rats (6).  


Grey-headed quail-dove conservation

Despite its precarious status, there are no known specific conservation measures in place for the grey-headed quail-dove. However, in 1978 hunting of the species was prohibited in the Dominican Republic. It is also found within several protected areas in Cuba, including the Santo Tomás Faunal Refuge, and approximately 12 percent of the total land cover of Cuba is designated as reserves (3) (6). The reserve coverage in the Dominican Republic is slightly higher, at around 16 percent, and the grey-headed quail-dove is found in both the Bahoruco Oriental Wildlife Refuge and the Ebano Verde Scientific Reserve (8). However, the level of legal enforcement varies, and very few reserves are afforded strict protection (6). Hunting, draining and fires also need to be controlled within the species’ range, and the laws governing these activities should be strictly enforced (3).   

Efforts are being undertaken to increase the area of reserve coverage, and improve the level of protection in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The Darwin Initiative is supporting a project that aims to train the staff and develop management plans for 15 Cuban reserves. Already, training workshops have been conducted, and computers, cameras and other electronic equipment has been donated to Cuban reserves and scientific institutions to help improve the countries resources (10). In the Dominican Republic, ecotourism and environmental sustainability projects have been developed in some reserves, while a further 15 sites have been proposed for protected status (11) (12).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more information on the conservation of birds in Hispaniola, see:

For more information on the conservation of the grey-headed quail-dove, see:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
In birds, a thick-walled muscular chamber in which tough food is ground up, sometimes with the aid of ingested pebbles or grit.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Having only one mate during a breeding season, or throughout the breeding life of a pair.
Nominate subspecies
The subspecies indicated by the repetition of the specific name.
Riparian forest
Forest that is situated along the bank of a river, stream or other body of water.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
Aperture of the anus or cloaca.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 4: Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (February, 2010)
  4. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Garrido, O.H., Kirwan, G.M. and Capper, D.R. (2002) Species limits within grey-headed quail-dove Geotrygon caniceps and implications for the conservation of a globally threatened species. Bird Conservation International, 12: 169-187.
  6. BirdLife International EBA Factsheet (February, 2010)
  7. The Vermont Centre for Ecostudies (February, 2010)
  8. BirdLife International EBA Factsheet (February, 2010)
  9. Mitchell, A. and Wells, L. (1997) The threatened birds of Cuba project report. Cotinga, 7: 69-71.
  10. Darwin Initiative Biodiversity Conservation in Cuba (February, 2010)
  11. BirdLife International IBA Factsheet (February, 2010)
  12. Schubert, A. (1993) Conservation of biological diversity in the Dominican Republic. Oryx, 27: 115-121.

Image credit

Grey-headed quail dove walking on forest floor  
Grey-headed quail dove walking on forest floor

© William Price

William Price
Van Beuningenstraat 132HS
Tel: +3120681388


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