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Abstract Aim Range expansion across a heterogeneous landscape may depend on the habitat selected and used by the expanding species. If habitat selection influences range expansion then localities colonized by a species should contain a greater proportion of favoured habitat (and less non-habitat) than other nearby localities not colonized. White-winged doves (Zenaida asiatica) and Eurasian collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) are two bird species that provide an excellent opportunity to test this hypothesis, because the geographic ranges of both species have been expanding in North America for more than two decades. Location Continental USA. Methods We used distribution data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey to test whether the landscapes occupied by each species contained a greater proportion of favoured habitat (urban land, grassland/pasture, shrub land and cropland) and a lower proportion of non-habitat (forest land) than landscapes where doves were not found. We tested each species separately in each of three broad expansion areas, namely East, Central and West. We also compared rates of spatial spread between expansion areas and between the two species. Results As predicted, both species tended to occupy landscapes with greater proportions of urban land, shrub land and cropland but with less forest land compared with landscapes without doves, in all three expansion areas. Contrary to prediction, occupied landscapes tended to have slightly less grassland/pasture than unoccupied landscapes. Rates of spread differed between the two species and among expansion areas. Main conclusions Range expansion and the extent to which a species fills or saturates its range are influenced by the habitat ecology of the expanding species. Species colonize localities based on the availability of suitable habitat. However, the role of habitat in a species’ range expansion does depend somewhat on the greater geographical setting. Over large regional and geographical scales, range expansion (rate of spread and saturation) may proceed unevenly, suggesting that range expansion is a very dynamic and context-specific process.