- Common Name:
- Mourning doves
- Scientific Name:
- Zenaida macroura
- Average Life Span:
- Around one year but can reach up to five years
- Average Life Span In Captivity:
- Up to 16 years
- 12 inches long
- IUCN Red List Status:
- Least concern
- Current Population Trend:
What is a mourning dove?
One of North America’s most common and widespread doves, mourning doves are found from southern Canada to central Mexico. Named for their distinctive, sorrowful song, these co-parenting birds lay up to six broods each year because of their fledglings’ high mortality rates.
Mourning doves are medium-size birds with slim bodies, thin necks, and long, tapered tails that enable them to fly up to 55 miles per hour. This bird’s head and neck plumage is a muted pinkish-brown while its wings are grayish-brown with dark spots. It has a black dot below and behind its eyes and bold white tips on all but its central tail feathers. Males and females cannot be easily distinguished by their plumage, but juveniles are darker with white markings at the tips of their feathers, resembling scales.
Mourning doves feed from dawn to dusk, eating up to 20 percent of their bodyweight each day. While they prefer to stay close to home, they can travel up to 20 miles for food. They mainly eat seeds as well as grasses, weeds, and insects. Their soft bills cannot crack open seeds so they swallow them whole with sand or gravel to help with digestion.
Mourning doves likely thrived after European settlers arrived in North America and began to clear the land. These birds value high visibility and avoid thick forests. They are commonly found in agricultural and suburban areas and like to perch on telephone wires.
The mourning dove’s primary song—a distinctive woeful call known as a “perch coo”—is a two-syllable coo followed by two or three louder coos: “Coo-woo, WOO, WOO, WOO.” Males call to attract a mate while females reply so quietly they might not be audible. After mating, males sing to warn off rivals. These doves are also known for the loud whistling of air rushing through their wing feathers during take-off and landing. The sound is associated with courtship and used to warn other birds of danger.
Mating and reproduction
To attract a mate, the male coos and flies in an oval pattern, flapping his wings noisily before approaching her on the ground, bowing, and puffing up his chest. After mating, the pair chooses a nesting site in a tree, shrub, on the ground, or even in an artificial structure like a porch or a deck. The male brings twigs to the female, who builds the nest. Nests are so sparse that the eggs are frequently visible from below.
There are two eggs in each clutch. The first is laid two days after finishing the nest then another two days later. The birds share parenting duties: The male incubates the eggs during the day and the female at night. After two weeks, the chicks—called squabs—are born naked, blind, and totally helpless. The parents feed them with a regurgitated fatty, protein-rich liquid called crop milk before weaning them onto seeds. The young leave the nest about two weeks after hatching but remain close for another one to two weeks to be fed, usually by the father. Meanwhile, the female prepares to lay another brood.
The mourning dove has a conservation status of "least concern," according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
They have short lifespans and a high mortality rate. Predators such as including snakes, dogs, cats, raccoons, and birds of prey can pose a threat to them. Game hunters and extreme weather also can be dangerous: Storms blow nests from the trees, and heavy rain can kill nestlings and adults. Because only 20 to 30 percent of hatchlings survive past one year, mourning doves raise as many as six broods annually.
DID YOU KNOW?
Mourning doves can suck water up through their bills like a straw, unlike other many birds who must tip their heads back to swallow water.
The species is a game bird, with about 45 million killed by hunters in North America each year.
Also known as “turtle doves,” mourning doves are monogamous and often mate for life.
Unlike humans, mourning doves don’t need freshwater to survive. They can drink brackish water up to 25 percent as salty as seawater.