The Mourning dove is a member of the large Columbidae family, including pigeons and doves, and is one of the most widespread birds of Central and North America.
Mourning doves are partly so successful due to their prolific breeding behaviors. Many pairs raise three or four broods a year, but in rare cases, as many as six broods have been recorded! That’s more than any other bird in North America! So, do Mourning doves mate for life?
Mourning doves are typically seasonally monogamous, meaning most birds form a new pair bond each breeding season. However, many birds re-pair with the same mate. Birds remain loyal throughout the breeding season and spend practically all their time together. Some pairs of Mourning doves will remain together all year round in warmer regions.
If you spot a pair of Mourning doves, it’s not uncommon to see them displaying affection for each other. Pairs preen and cuddle each other throughout the breeding season and often greet each other with a gentle coo. The strong bonds formed by Mourning doves help them raise many successful broods of chicks.
Of course, there is much more to learn about the pairing behaviors of these popular and successful birds - read on to find out!
Mourning Doves build strong bonds with their mate during the breeding the season
Before the start of the breeding season, unmated male Mourning doves situate themselves near females in their breeding grounds. In most of North America, Mourning doves pair as early as October through until February ahead of the spring breeding season.
In warmer regions, pairs of Mourning doves may stay together all year round, essentially mating for life. Non-migratory Mourning doves are more likely to form lifelong pair bonds, as they remain in the same territories for much of their lives.
Before pairing, male Mourning doves can be pretty aggressive towards each other while sighting unpaired females in the area.
Males advertise themselves to females by perching and cooing throughout most of the day.
Sometimes, they’ll timidly edge closer to the female, or they’ll pluck up the courage to fly right to the female’s perch. Aerial displays are also observed, where the male claps his wings and flies up and down vigorously. Wing flapping is one of the primary means a male Mourning dove will try and attract a female.
Before mating, the male typically preens the female, which the female reciprocates. In addition, both birds may vibrate their wings in the process of courtship bonding, indicating affection and pleasure.
Mourning doves also bill and coo and may spend long periods sitting together while cooing gently. Once ready, the female will bow to indicate that she's ready, and the male will mount her. After copulation, preening and grooming continue for a short while.
A pair of breeding Mourning Doves
Pairs of Mourning doves tend to act cooperatively in everything they do, from building the nest to incubation and raising the chicks.
Once paired, the male Mourning dove generally scouts for a valid nesting site. Well-situated nests in rural or wild locations are positioned in woodland or dense foliage, typically in a medium-sized tree, though Mourning doves can build nests pretty much anywhere.
After the nesting site is chosen, the male brings the female small twigs to begin nest construction. Mourning dove nests are not complex, and they don’t take too much care in building them - time is always of the essence for these imperious breeders!
A female Mourning Dove sat on the nest with her chicks
Both male and female Mourning doves are cooperative when it comes to incubating their eggs, and both take a turn in a typical 24-hour period.
The male generally incubates the eggs throughout the morning until late afternoon, when the female takes over. In most cases, the female incubates for most of the 24hr period.
Mourning doves have a low cooing call that indicates they want to exchange the nest. Incubation takes around 14 days, sometimes less in warmer regions.
Both male and female mourning doves share incubation duties
Pairs of Mourning doves work together closely to raise their chicks. They form strong pair bonds that result in excellent teamwork.
Once the Mourning doves’ chicks are born, both parents brood the chicks to keep them warm. Similar to incubation, the male generally broods in the morning through the afternoon and the female for the remainder of the day and night. However, the parents may not always brood the chicks constantly, depending on the weather.
In the first week or so, the baby Mourning doves are fed with a high-fat, high-protein secretion called crop milk. The crop is an extension of the digestive system. Crop milk is similar to mammalian milk; most pigeons and doves feed it to their young chicks.
Both the male and female Mourning dove feed the chicks crop milk. This carries on for around a week, at which point the parents introduce harder foods into the chicks’ diets, including berries, seeds, grains, and insects.
After ten days or so, the male takes over feeding, allowing the female to prepare for the next brood. Mourning dove pairs are highly cooperative, and sharing practically all duties enables them to breed quickly and efficiently. They’re one of the most common American birds for a reason!
Mourning dove parents come down to their fledgling's hiding spot
It’s sometimes thought that Mourning doves are named as such because they mourn for their deceased mate. But, in actual fact, they’re named after their rather mournful low-key coo-coooo-woo-woo-woo call!
There have been observations of Mourning doves pining for their deceased mate, but Mourning doves aren’t unique amongst birds in this behavior. Many birds show visible signs of distress or other negative emotional reactions when their mate or chicks die.
Researchers think there is an element of emotional grief to these reactions but highlight that the birds may be confused about what’s happened to their partner.
If a Mourning dove’s mate dies, they will seek out a new mate when appropriate, i.e., before the start of the next breeding season. In rare cases, single bereaved Mourning doves help other pairs build nests and incubate chicks in what’s known as cooperative breeding.
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