Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark
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A mourning dove photographed in Christoval, Texas
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Mourning Dove

This familiar medium-size dove, with its slim body and tapered tail, is the most common and widespread dove in most of North America. Wings make a fluttering whistle when the bird takes flight. Polytypic. Length 12".


Head and underparts unmarked pale pinkish brown, but with black crescent framing lower edge of auricular; upper parts darker and grayer brown; prominent black spots on coverts and tertials, and flight feathers contrasting darker; long pointed tail dark, with black subterminal spots and bold white tips on all but the central rectrices. Adult male: iridescent blue and pink on hind neck, with pinkish bloom extending onto breast; iris blackish; orbital skin pale blue; bill dark; and feet red. Adult female: similar to adult male, but with reduced iridescence and pinkish bloom. Juvenile: generally darker and browner; pale buff-gray fringes on most of the feathers give the bird a “scaly” appearance; dark crescent below auricular extends forward toward the base of the bill; cheek area pale.

Geographic Variation

Five subspecies; 3 in North America, with carolinensis breeding in the East, and marginella breeding in the West, and nominate macroura from the West Indies recently invading the Florida Keys; not separable in the field.


Call: a mournful oowoo-woo-woo-woo.

Status and Distribution

Common throughout the United States and southern Canada south through Central America. Prefers open areas, including rural and residential areas, avoiding thick forests; normally feeds on the ground. Breeding: nest is a loose platform of twigs placed at various heights above the ground, flimsy enough that the eggs are frequently visible from below. Migration: highly migratory, with birds breeding at the northern limit of the range believed to winter in Mexico, but those breeding farther south moving less, with birds present all year in the southern half of the United States. Vagrant: casual to Alaska and northern Canada; once in Great Britain.


The species is a well-managed game bird, with about 45 million killed by hunters in North America each year.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006