Mourning doves are found across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Breeding pairs are found in every state, including Hawaii, and on rare occasions Alaska, with an estimated population of more than 400 million birds. With such a diverse natural range, it is no surprise that mourning doves do not all follow the same uniform migration pattern.
Read on to learn more about where these melancholy birds spend their winters and summers. So let's get into it, do Mourning doves migrate?
Mourning doves are termed “partial migrants”. In the northernmost regions of the United States and Canada, most breeding populations are migratory, flying south in fall and returning to northern breeding grounds the following spring. Dove populations found further south are primarily resident.
Mourning doves migrate over land, following typical “flyways” used by various migratory bird species. Large numbers of birds transit across the northern U.S., with destination wintering grounds across the southernmost states and into Mexico.
Keep reading our in-depth guide to mourning dove migration to discover the areas doves are most likely to migrate to and from, and the key factors that may influence their migration patterns.
Mourning Doves are partially migratory species with some populations being resident
Mourning doves leave their northern ranges in large flocks to fly towards the southern U.S. states and further south into Mexico. They fly at a relatively low altitude, during daylight hours, and rest overnight. Young birds leave first, followed by females, then lastly males.
Not all mourning doves migrate, but those that do typically leave their northern ranges in late August or early September, when the temperatures begin to drop and food resources may become more depleted.
Close up of a Mourning Dove perched on a branch
Some mourning doves that are resident towards the southernmost limits of the species’ breeding ranges do not migrate, but instead remain in their home territory all year round. Bird populations that breed further north are more likely to migrate south to avoid the harshest winter conditions and potential shortages of food when temperatures plunge.
Mourning doves that breed in the furthest northern regions will undertake migration journeys that take them thousands of miles south, as far as southern Mexico or even beyond. Dove populations that breed in the central and southern U.S. may migrate a few hundred miles at the most, or may not leave their home range at all.
Mourning Dove in flight over a wetland
Migratory mourning doves leave their northern ranges to spend winter in the milder southern states and Mexico. Sightings have been recorded as far south as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
It is impossible to accurately state how long it takes for a mourning dove to migrate, due to a number of factors, such as distance covered and number and length of rest stops taken.
Research estimates that migrating doves can cover distances of more than 180 km/h (112 mph) in a single day.
A small flock of mourning doves perched in a tree
Mourning doves take regular breaks to rest and feed during their migration flights. Migrations are generally unhurried, and although mourning doves have been recorded flying at speeds of 88 km/h (55 mph), it is unlikely that this pace is sustained over long distances on migratory flights.
Once the breeding season has finished, mourning doves will commonly form large flocks ahead of their migration journeys. Groups of between 5 and 50 birds heading south together are a common sight in fall skies.
A pair of mourning doves feeding on seeds
Whether a mourning dove migrates or not depends largely on geographical location. Doves inhabiting the northernmost regions of Alaska and Canada will fly south as the weather begins to cool off and there is increased competition for food resources.
Dove populations that are resident in the northern and mid-United States are partial migrants, with some birds traveling south, and others remaining in their home turf all year round. Populations in the extreme south of the U.S. are likely to be resident all year round, but these local populations will be temporarily swelled by winter visitors from the north.
Some mourning dove populations will migrate south in search of warmer climates, with millions of birds flying south each year from Canada and the northern United States. Birds that begin their migrations in Canada may break their journeys in the northern states, or even overwinter there before returning to their northern breeding grounds.
Some mourning doves will migrate to the far south of the U.S., into Mexico, and may travel as far as Panama. Dove populations resident in the southern states tend not to migrate, and instead remain in their resident territories throughout the year.
Mourning Dove perched on a branch in the winter
From late March until early May, mourning doves that have migrated to southern regions will begin their return migration to their original breeding grounds in the central and northern United States and further north into Canada.
Mourning dove populations that did not migrate in winter remain in their home territories.
Some evidence exists of nocturnal migration of mourning doves, but daytime movement is far more common.
In winter, the population of mourning doves in Florida increases, with migrants arriving from northern states. Resident birds remain in the state all year round.
The mourning dove is Michigan’s official state bird of peace. Approximately 4 million mourning doves are estimated to migrate south from Michigan each fall and return in the spring. Not all Michigan mourning doves do migrate, however, with a number of resident birds spending winter in the state ahead of the spring breeding season.
A mourning dove in flight
Wisconsin is a key state on the north-south migration route of mourning doves, with an estimated 4 to 5 million migrating through the state each fall. Some begin their journey in Canada and visit the state briefly before continuing with their migration further south to the southern states and beyond, while others will end their migration there and remain in Wisconsin until the following spring when they return to their Canadian breeding ranges.
Wisconsin also has a substantial breeding population of mourning doves; some of these may join the migration south, while others remain resident in the state and overwinter there.
Some mourning dove populations pass through Ohio on their southern migration en-route from Canada. An estimated 1 million mourning dove pairs nest in Ohio, and some of this population remain in the state all year round. Others do migrate further south, but return north to breed in April and May.
Do you have a question about this topic that we haven't answered? Submit it below, and one of our experts will answer as soon as they can.
Get the latest BirdFacts delivered straight to your inbox