A mourning dove stands on a concrete slab.

Mourning Dove

Mourning doves travel in flocks, breaking rank only to nest and raise young. Males defend their mates as a kind of mobile territory, defending her and the immediate nest site—but not much else—from other birds. The slender brown shape of the mourning dove, with its long tapered tail, is a familiar sight all across North America.

When perched, the dove shows black spots on tan wings, and the adult can show glistening shades of purple, pink, and green on the neck and head. In flight, the mourning dove’s tail feathers show white tips.

Listen for

This species is named for its sad-sounding cooing: ah-ooh! whoo-whoo-whoo. Non-birders often confuse the mourning dove’s call with an owl’s hooting.

Find it

These tapered, graceful brown and pinkish birds wholeheartedly embrace human alterations of the natural landscape, finding their greatest abundance in agricultural and suburban areas. Doves love water, but may foul birdbaths by sitting around the rim, tails in. The only habitat shunned by mourning doves is deep, contiguous forest.

They are most common in agricultural areas with hedgerows and shelterbelts. They are also abundant in suburban areas as well, where visits to feeding stations are an integral part of their daily routines. Mourning doves migrate, especially far northern populations, but some individuals are resident year-round.

Feed it

Streamlined, fast, and powerful flyers, mourning doves travel in flocks, descending to feed on a great variety of grains and weed seeds that they peck from the ground. They are often seen in ranks on power lines over farm fields. A capacious crop allows mourning doves to gorge—sometimes to the point of being misshapen—and then digest their stored food later when resting.

Nesting Behavior

Mourning doves may mate and nest in any month of the year, but males begin to tune up their songs in late winter. They have a production-line breeding mode, following one brood with another as often as six times in a season. The twig nest platform, placed in a wide variety of tree species, but frequently in a pine, is often flimsy enough so that eggs show through from beneath.

Two eggs are incubated by both members of the pair, and they hatch in 14 days. Young doves are fed first on crop milk, a secretion unique to the pigeon family, and later on regurgitated seeds. Young remain in the nest for another 15 days but may fledge much earlier. The male feeds them until about day 30, while the female re-nests. Immature birds are visibly smaller and have fine, buff feather edges overall.


The mourning dove has a built-in straw! Other birds have to scoop water in their bills and tilt their heads back to swallow. But the MoDo can drink water by sucking it up through its bill.

Listen to a Mourning Dove:


10 thoughts on “Mourning Dove”

  1. Thank you for this resource. My 12 yo was so excited to identify the
    bird outside our window and to realize it’s the one she hears every
    morning (which, yes, we thought was an owl.)

  2. I love those Doves…they are special. I wish I knew what you feed them beside wild bird seeds. Will they eat human food chopped finely?

    1. Hi Geena, Human food is not a natural food source for mourning doves, so for their health and safety, it is best to feed all wild birds what they have evolved to eat, and in the case of mourning doves, that is primarily seeds. But they do enjoy agricultural crops, including some “human food” such as sunflower seeds, peanuts, wheat seeds, buckwheat, and barley. For the wellbeing of the wild mourning doves, I recommend you stick to commercial birdseed. Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

  3. We have three types of doves in our area. Mourning(the smallest), White Wing(the next largest), and Banded or collared(the largest). I have seen what appears to be an all black Mourning dove(judging by it’s size) twice. I have tried to get a picture of it, but by the time I get my phone and get back, it is gone. Has anyone else ever seen an all black dove, Mourning or otherwise?

    1. Where do you live? Juvenile white-crowned pigeons are a uniform dark gray. They’re slightly larger than mourning doves, but found only in extreme southern Florida. Rock pigeons are found across the U.S., and there is a dark morph that is all black. The red-billed pigeon is also dark gray, and found only in far southern Texas. That’s it for black pigeons in the U.S. However, all birds—including pigeons and doves—can have a genetic condition called melanism. It’s sort of the opposite of albinism (albinos lack all pigment). Animals with melanism are dark, having more than normal pigment. I have seen photos of melanistic mourning doves. They weren’t black, but they were very dark, especially next to normally pigmented mourning doves around it. Dawn Hewitt, Bird Watcher’s Digest

      1. I live in North Texas. This dove was pure black. It was obviously a dove, based on the body and head shape. It also had the long tail feathers of a Mourning dove. I am going to make sure that I take my camera with me when I go outside to watch them at the feeders. It hasn’t shown up in the last few days, but plenty of others have. I sometimes get twenty or thirty birds of all three types at the feeders at a time.

        1. Although it’s small, the white on the back suggests rock pigeon. Does it have bands on its legs? If so it is certainly a racing pigeon. I checked with my boss, Bill Thompson, III, who has birded around the world, and he is not familiar with any dove that looks like this, so either it is some sort of rock pigeon, or else it is a super melanistic mourning dove.

          1. As you can see from the picture, there are no bands on the legs. They are just like the doves in the background. So I guess its a melanistic mourning dove. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. :-)

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