Feb 27, 2017 | Featured Web Article

Mourning Dove: A Widespread, Common Beauty

The slender brown shape of the mourning dove, with its long, tapered tail, is a familiar sight all across North America. This species is named for its sad-sounding cooing: coo-AHH-coo,coo,coo!

If you feed birds, you probably feed mourning doves. Mourning doves are North America's most common and widespread native dove species, named for its mournful cooing: coo-AHH-coo,coo,coo, sometimes confused for an owl. When startled, mourning doves explode into flight, causing their wings to whistle.

The species is known to nest every month of the year, especially in southern areas, although they migrate from the northern most parts of their breeding range for the winter. Especially in the south, but even in the north, mourning doves produce as many as six clutches each year, more than any other breeding bird on the continent. They have been known to start a new nest just 30 days after starting the previous one, sometimes even before the previous brood has fledged. Females usually lay two eggs. Incubation lasts just 14 days, and the young fledge 13 to 15 days after hatching. The fledglings can survive without parental assistance at 21 days if abundant food is available nearby.

Some mourning dove pairs stay together through numerous nesting cycles; some find new partners for new nests, or with the first nest of a new year.

Mourning doves have proportionally small heads and tiny brains. Maybe that's why they build such flimsy nests, often nothing more than a few sticks on a slender branch of a tall tree. Lots of mourning dove nests fail simply because the wind blows them down. So, they begin again: The female will build another flimsy nest, sometimes on the same branch using the remains of the failed nest. It seems like an unwise reproduction strategy, but it works. Because mourning doves reproduce like rabbits, their population is stable even though hunters in the United States take an estimated 15 to 20 million each year.

Take a minute to admire mourning doves. Notice their pink or green iridescence in direct sunlight. Adult males are slightly more colorful than females, with a pale rosy hue on the face, throat and breast. The male's head has a bluish crown and nape, while the female's is brownish, although the differences are subtle. Adult male mourning doves have bare turquoise blue skin around the eyes. It's turquoise green in adult females, and brighter during breeding season. On average, males are slightly bigger than females, but there is overlap.

Despite being a popular game bird, mourning doves survive well alongside humans. They are particularly numerous in cornfields, parks, open woodlands and urban and suburban backyards. At backyard feeding stations and in wild habitat, mourning doves are grain and seed eaters. To attract them, offer sunflower seeds, cracked corn and a high-quality seed mix directly on the ground or on a low platform feeder. Doves also love safflower seed. It's easier for them to swallow than sunflower since doves swallow seeds whole and let their gizzard do the work of hulling.

About Dawn Hewitt

Dawn Hewitt is the managing editor at Watching Backyard Birds and Bird Watcher's Digest. She has been watching birds since 1978, and wrote a weekly birding column for The Herald-Times, a daily newspaper in Bloomington, Indiana, for 11 years.

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  • #18 in the Gallery is misidentified as a Tree Sparrow, instead of Tree Swallow.
    by Ron, Mon, 23 Apr 2018
  • yep i do the microwave too....they don't break down in our compost so the birds get them!
    by ecumam2, Wed, 18 Apr 2018
  • As you probably know, sunflower seed hulls have a bio-chemical in them, (allelopathic), which keeps any other seeds from sprouting, in the same area. I have used this fact, to a purpose. With a large build up, each year (& yes, it is a bare spot!), I rake up the "bounty" & spread them on areas of bulbs & perennials to keep the annual weeds down. It's also helpful near blue squill bulbs, which drop seeds through the fence that divides a perennial garden, from the lawn , where they are welcome to naturalize. The garden can be over run with them, so sunflower hulls can keep the sprouting down.
    by Plntlady, Tue, 17 Apr 2018
  • I do this in a small garden, near our road, where winter road sand can build up & bury the small, low-growing plants that live there. In spring I just pick up the burlap & shake it back onto the road, before the road crew comes by with the street sweeper, in spring.
    by Plntlady, Tue, 17 Apr 2018
  • Thanks, now I can not worry so much. It's April 17, here in NE Vt. & is snowing big snowflakes. Yesterday we have scary, high winds & it's refusing to be spring. A phoebe, which was so puffed up I didn't recognize it, except for it's insectivore beak, showed up near the feeders, on my porch. It flew to a low branch, in a sugar maple & has been huddled there for quite a while. I was sure it was a phoebe when I observed it's tail bobbing, when first landing. I assume it is now being still, trying to reserve body heat. I have a frozen, cut pomegranate, hanging from the porch & we have an ample supply of sumac berries & other native fruiting plants, so hopefully it will find what it needs.... Also spotted a brown creeper, on the trunk of one of our big, old sugar maples, this morning.
    by Plntlady, Tue, 17 Apr 2018