SIB “Bird of the Week” – Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves drinking at bird bath. Photo by Valerie Doane

Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Length: 9″- 12″; Wingspan: 17″-19″; Weight: 4-6 oz.

Mourning Doves are one of the most recognized birds in North America and can be found all across the continent. Their distinctive cooing sound can be heard throughout the day and lends a sense of peaceful calm to the backyard. A graceful, slender-tailed dove they get their name from this soft mournful sound.

Mourning doves are plump-bodied and long-tailed, with short legs, small bill, and a head that looks particularly small in comparison to the body. The long, pointed tail is unique among North American doves. They’re a buffy tan with black spots on the wings, and blend in well with their surroundings. The male is tinged pinkish on the chest and blue-gray on the crown while the female is a duller plain brown

Mourning Doves perched on deck rail. Photo by Valerie Doane.

You can find Mourning Doves nearly everywhere except deep woods. Look for them in fields, patches of bare ground, on overhead perches like telephone wires and similar perches throughout the neighborhood. They can often be spotted foraging on the ground under feeders or resting on fences. Mourning Doves fly fast on powerful wingbeats, sometimes making sudden ascents, descents, and dodges, their pointed tails stretching behind them. I’ve seen this firsthand when a UPS truck drove into the path of a pair of Mourning Doves. Their steep, sudden ascent to avoid the truck would make a top gun aviator proud.

Mourning Doves feed mostly on the ground, with seeds making up 99% of their diet. They eat quickly and fill their crop, then digest the seeds while resting. They regularly swallow grit (small gravel) to aid in the digestion of hard seeds. They eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day, or 71 calories on average.

In courtship the male flies up with noisy wingbeats and then goes into a long circular glide, wings fully spread and slightly bowed down. On the ground, the male approaches the female stiffly, chest puffed out, bowing and giving emphatic cooing sounds. The male then leads the female to potential nest sites from which the female selects one. Nest sites are usually in a tree or shrub, sometimes on the ground. The nest is a flimsy platform of twigs; construction is a team effort with the male bringing the material and the female building the nest.

Two white eggs is common, with a 14 day incubation by both parents. Both parents feed and young leave the nest at about 15 days and wait nearby to be fed for the next 1-2 weeks. One pair of mourning doves may raise as many as 5-6 broods per year in our area.

Keep your ears open as you go about your morning walk and see how many Mourning Doves you can hear. Click here to learn more about morning doves, and to listen to their distinctive sound.

Submitted by Gina Sanders
Photos by Valerie Doane

This blog post is part of a series SIB will publish on a regular basis to feature birds seen in the area, both migratory and permanent residents.  When possible we will use photographs taken by our members.    Please let us know if you have any special requests of birds you would like to learn more about.

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