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.
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.
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.
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.
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: