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Dove vs Quail: What’s the Difference?

Dove vs quail.

Have you ever seen a dove or a quail and wondered what the differences are between these two bird species? Both are small, but they actually have some key distinctions.

In this blog post, we’ll closely examine doves and quails, comparing their appearance, habitat, diet, behaviour, and history of domestication. Read on to learn more about these fascinating birds!


At first glance, doves and quails may look similar – they are both relatively small, rounded birds with short legs and plump bodies. However, several physical differences set them apart.

Doves tend to be slimmer and more elongated than quails. The common city dove has a slender, torpedo-shaped body, a small head, and a long, tapered tail. Their wings are pointed and curve back when folded. Doves range in length from 9 to 13 inches. Their plumage is generally light grey, brown, or reddish-brown in colour, with black spots on the wings.

Quails have plumper, rounder bodies and shorter, more rounded wings than doves. Their tails are relatively short and square or round. Quails grow to between 5 and 11 inches in length. They exhibit intricate patterning in shades of brown, black, white, grey, and rust. Different quail species have bold head plumes, streaks, bars, or a combination of patterns in their feathering.

When taking flight, doves are swift and agile, while quails have explosive, vertical flight patterns. Doves take off with a loud clapping sound, while quails burst upward with a distinctive whirring of wings.


Doves adapt readily to human environments, thriving in cities, farms, suburbs, and parklands. Mourning doves particularly like edge habitats where forests meet open land. Band-tailed pigeons inhabit coniferous forests and woodlands. Rock doves, also called domestic pigeons, nest on cliffs and buildings.

Quails prefer brushy habitats with dense, low vegetation, including grasses, agricultural fields, marshes, savannas, scrublands, and semi-desert areas. California quails live in chaparral and woodlands of the West Coast. Gambel’s quails frequent desert washes and mesquite groves of the Southwest.

While doves traverse open spaces, quails stick to covered areas and look for hiding spots and escape routes. Both may be found across habitats ranging from wild forests to backyard bird feeders.


Doves are exclusively seed and plant eaters. Their favourites include millet, safflower, peas, wheat, corn, and sunflower seeds. They use their slender beaks to pick up food and swallow it whole. Doves do not scratch or dig in the dirt, looking for sustenance.

Quails are opportunistic eaters who consume seeds, berries, leaves, blossoms, and buds. They also eat more insects than doves, including ants, beetles, caterpillars, termites, and grasshoppers. Quails use their short, stout beaks to crack open seeds and dig through soil and leaf litter, searching for food.

Both species swallow tiny pebbles to help grind up food in their gizzards. Doves and quails get much of their water intake through the foods they eat.


Doves are loyal birds that form strong pair bonds. Mates preen each other, perch close together, and may even feed each other. Their courtship displays involve bowing, tail-fanning, and ritualized flights. Doves show affection by gently pecking their mate’s beak or head. They produce soft coos used to attract mates and signal contentment.

Quails are also social but don’t pair bond long term. A male may mate with multiple females in a season. Quails announce their presence loudly with choruses of “koi-lee” calls. Their courtship displays feature the male puffing his chest, spreading his tail, and charging at prospective mates with wings outstretched.

Doves blast directly skyward on swiftly beating wings when taking off in alarm. Quails explode upward but don’t go as high. Their short, broad wings allow them to change direction rapidly in flight.

Doves generally have mellow personalities, while quails are feisty and assertive. Both produce a variety of vocalizations beyond just coos and calls. And when resting, they tuck their heads into their shoulders.


Selective breeding of rock doves gave rise to domestic pigeons. Escaped domestic birds led to the development of feral city dove populations. Doves have been kept as pets, racing birds, and symbols of love and peace for centuries.

Dove keeping continues today on hobby and commercial farms. White doves are bred for release at events like weddings or funerals. Ringneck doves are popular as pets.

Quail domestication also dates back thousands of years. Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt kept them as food sources. The Japanese began breeding Japanese quail as songbirds in the 12th century.

In the 20th century, quail farming emerged worldwide for meat and egg production. Certain breeds, like the Coturnix quail, are farmed commercially on a large scale today. They are commonly sold as food in markets.

So, while both species have lived near people for ages, doves became companion birds while quails took on roles as livestock and food sources. Their reputations diverged over the centuries as a result.