Mourning doves live exclusively in the Americas and are part of the sizable Columbidae family, including pigeons and doves. Like many other species of pigeons and doves, the Mourning dove is a highly successful species and is one of the most abundant birds in North America.
While Mourning doves are a relatively common sight, their babies remain somewhat concealed. This is a guide to baby Mourning doves, and there will be many pictures of baby Mourning doves along the way!
At birth, baby Mourning doves (which are also called squabs) are covered in a sparse yellow-brown down. Their skin is very dark, and they look quite prehistoric - much the same as baby pigeons.
The beak is also dark and has a prominent egg tooth, which is a tooth that enables the chick to break out of its egg while hatching.
Mourning dove squabs are weak and unable to thermoregulate, meaning they need to be kept warm by their parents for a few days. They’re also unable to raise their heads or open their eyes for around a week. Despite being small and helpless at birth, baby Mourning doves grow extremely quickly.
Mourning dove chicks (squabs) in the nest with their mother
While baby Mourning doves are tiny, weighing just 5g, they grow rapidly and develop feather coverage within around ten days or so. Their eyes open after around a week, and they’ll begin to shuffle around the nest.
At around the 10 to 14 day mark, which is pretty much when the birds are ready to fledge, Mourning dove squabs will have developed most of their adult feather sheaths and will be near enough covered in their juvenile plumage. Juvenile plumage is a darker brown than adult plumage and has a more speckled pattern which is thought to provide camouflage.
They’ll also begin to exercise their wings and rummage around near the nest. Despite fledging after just 10 to 14 days, baby Mourning doves stay close to their parents for around 20 days to one month.
A recently fledged juvenile mourning dove
At birth, Mourning dove hatchlings are just a few cm long, weighing 5g. However, by day 7, the chicks grow to around 10cm long, and by day 10, they measure around 15cm long, which is around half their adult size!
At birth, baby Mourning doves weigh around 5g (0.17oz).
After ten days, their weight increases dramatically to 45 to 60g. At fledging, after around 12 to 15 days, the chicks weigh some 50 to 80g. This isn’t too far off their average adult weight of 115 to 170g.
Close up of a newly hatched Mourning dove chick
Mourning doves are well-camouflaged, and though they’re quite flexible with regard to nesting sites, they’ll choose well-hidden nesting sites if they can. Once born, the squabs stay in the nest until they’re around half the size and weight of an adult at least.
So by the time you’re likely to spot a baby Mourning dove, they probably look similar to an adult. With that said, it’s not too uncommon to see juvenile Mourning doves throughout the breeding season.
Baby Mourning doves grow extremely quickly and fledge after just 14 days or so. At this point, they hardly look like adults, but they won’t stray too far from the nest and will remain as hidden as they can until they’re able to fly off and become independent.
Baby Mourning doves are often called squabs, a name which is also given to the young pigeons and other doves. Technically, ‘squab’ is a culinary term and refers to baby or young pigeons which are consumed as meat.
Like other birds, baby Mourning doves are also commonly called chicks. At birth, just after emerging from the egg, they’re called hatchlings. Then, while they remain in the nest, they’re called nestlings. Once fledged, they’re called fledglings, and then finally juveniles and adults.
Mourning Dove fledgling resting in a sheltered area, as they're unable to fly just yet
Like many other doves and pigeons, baby Mourning doves are fed with crop milk. Crop milk is somewhat similar to mammalian milk, though it’s secreted from the crop, which is an extension of the digestive system. Both the male and the female begin to produce crop milk some 2 to 3 days before the chicks hatch.
In Mourning doves, feeding with crop milk continues for around five days, at which point the parents start to introduce more seeds and harder foods, which are usually partially digested and regurgitated into the chicks’ mouths. Not all birds create crop milk, but those that do tend to feed it to their young in the first few days after hatching. Crop milk is extremely rich in proteins and fats, and it helps the baby birds put on massive quantities of weight in a short period.
Parental feeding continues for around a month at the most. Most foods are regurgitated into the chicks’ mouths for the first week or so. After that, chicks aged 14 days are fed broadly the same diet as their parents, primarily seeds, grains, and berries. While both parents feed the young chicks, the male takes over at the 12-day mark to allow the female to prepare for the next brood.
Close up of a female mourning dove feeding her chicks
During the first 4 to 5 days, both parents feed the chicks with crop milk. After that, the female generally takes over feeding duties for around ten days, though both parents still feed the chicks.
After that, the male begins to take over feeding at around 12 days, at which point the female prepares for the next brood. Finally, the male may feed the fledgling chicks for around a month until they’re confident enough to fly off and become independent.
In the first few days, Mourning doves feed their chicks with crop milk. Crop milk is a nutritious compound produced in the crop of adult birds - it’s similar in composition to mammalian milk.
Not all birds produce crop milk in abundance, but most birds from the Columbidae family do. Crop milk enables the chicks to grow rapidly; the parents then introduce more seeds and harder foods after around 5 or 6 days. By 12 to 14 days, baby Mourning doves are fed on practically the same diet as their parents (seeds, grains, and berries).
Female Mourning dove with her chicks in the nest
Mourning dove chicks fledge after around 14 days, but they stay close to their parents (typically the male) for around a month. After 14 days, the female will begin to prepare for the next brood while the male continues to feed and care for the chicks.
After a month or so, the chicks will fly off to join a juvenile flock, and the parents will begin incubating the next brood. This extremely efficient breeding system is partly why Mourning doves are so successful.
Mourning dove eggs are small and white with no markings. They measure around 2.6 to 3.0 cm long and 2.1 to 2.3 cm wide.
They’re typically sub-elliptical, meaning they’re more rounded than some bird eggs. In addition, studies have shown that eggs laid later in the breeding season tend to be longer than those laid earlier on, but the reasons why are unclear.
Two mourning dove eggs in the nest
Mourning doves nearly always lay two eggs. However, the size of their brood doesn’t prevent them from raising as many as ten chicks a year.
Many pairs of Mourning doves will raise 3 to 4 broods a year, but six broods have been recorded a few times - that’s more than any other bird in North America! In addition, both chicks have a pretty good chance of surviving until they fledge, but their odds of living for one year are only around 25% to 40% or so - as many as 75% of all Mourning doves die before they see their first birthday.
Nevertheless, the prolific breeding abilities of the Mourning dove are partly why their populations are so large, even despite high mortality rates and being killed and eaten as game.
Mourning dove eggs are incubated for around 14 days. When they begin to hatch, the chicks will emerge within just hours. Baby Mourning doves are equipped with a sharp egg tooth, enabling them to break through the eggshell efficiently.
A pair of Mourning doves perched in a tree, during the winter
Mourning doves can lay eggs as early as February in some southern states such as Texas. However, the breeding season usually gets underway in March, and most Mourning doves will have laid at least one clutch by early April.
The Mourning dove breeding season is exceptionally long and can continue all the way through to October, weather permitting. This long breeding season is partly why Mourning doves can afford to raise six broods. Surveys have found that the majority of broods are raised between April and August.
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