The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is a member of the dove family, Columbidae. They are widespread throughout North America. In the United States, mourning doves are largely year-round residents, except in the Northern Rockies, the Great Lakes, and the tip of the Northeast - where winters are often too harsh.
Many folks know the mourning dove by their soothing, mournful song - one of the reasons they are a beloved backyard bird. There is nothing quite so peaceful as sitting on the porch listening to the low cooOOO-wooo-wooo-wooo call of the dove. Do you know what prompts doves to make this call, though? Have you ever tried to figure out if it is the male or the female singing?
The two do look pretty similar, but there are subtle differences in coloration and behavior that can help you tell them apart. Read on to discover more about the female mourning dove and how to differentiate her from her partner.
Male and female mourning doves are similar in appearance but not impossible to tell apart. The best way to differentiate between the two is to look at the overall coloration.
The adult male dove boasts a distinct bluish-gray crown, light pink breast, and bright purple-pink patches on the sides of the neck. The adult female mourning dove has more brown and tan coloring overall. Her blue and pink hues are muted compared to the male. Females are also slightly smaller with more rounded heads.
Juvenile mourning doves look similar to adults, except that they have white markings on the face and on the white tips on the underparts of most of their feathers. Male juveniles are also not as colorful as their adult counterparts.
Male Mourning Dove
See the bluish tinge on top of the crown
Female Mourning Dove
Adult female mourning doves have a soft tan or dusty rose color on the head and neck, while the crown of the head to the top of the neck has a light bluish-gray tinge. A females’ wings have black spots intermingled with tan-gray feathers. They also have black spots on the sides of their necks, which can often be hidden.
If you are looking up at the dove while she is flying, you will notice her light peach body framed by tan-gray wing feathers.
Female mourning dover perched
Female mourning doves are not bigger than males; they are slightly smaller. The size difference is not significant, but when a pair is side by side, you can see the male is a bit thicker and more round.
Female mourning doves rarely ever coo or sing. While sitting on the nest they will make a low ohr ohr call.
Female mourning dove behavior does differ slightly from that of a male. The most notable differences are in the birds' singing and nesting habits. However, mated pairs do share a lot of the same responsibilities when it comes to raising their young.
Below we will dive into the subtle ways you can use behavioral differences to recognize females versus males in a mated pair.
Mourning doves have a few different vocalizations. The distinctive long and low cooOOO-wooo-wooo-wooo song is most often uttered by males looking to attract a mate. Male mourning doves have a shorter coo also, often called the nest-coo - used during the nest-building process.
When attracting and choosing a mate, female mourning dove behavior differs significantly from the male's. Males draw in females with their sweet, mournful song, then put on a courtship show - noisily flying into the air and gliding with wings fully spread. Once back on the ground, the male will approach the female slowly with his chest puffed as he bows and sings his cooing song.
All the female must do is sit back and enjoy the show, then decide if the male is a worthy companion.
Female Mourning Dove sat on the nest with her newborn chicks
The nesting season for mourning doves typically begins in early spring and continues through October. These nests are nothing fancy, usually just a platform of twigs built in the crook of a tree or shrub. Occasionally they are built on the ground.
The female mourning dove chooses the nesting site and builds the nest, while the male brings her the materials. Once the eggs have been laid, both the female and the male will take turns incubating the eggs. After about fourteen days, the eggs will hatch, then both parents share in feeding the young.
For the first few days, the male and female provide their hatchlings a substance referred to as “pigeon milk”. It is not really milk but a food (rich in fat and protein) secreted by the crop lining in the pigeon’s mouth. The young will stick their heads in the parent's mouth to feed on the nutritious substance.
After about fifteen days, the young will leave the nest. But the adult pair will go on to have two to five more broods that year.
During the breeding season, you may occasionally see mourning doves flying in groups of three. When this occurs, the male of a mated pair is typically in front, while a male competitor is close behind, and the female of the mated pair is in the back.
The male competitor is usually un-mated and trying to chase his rival from the territory he wants to use for nesting.
Female Mourning Dove on the nest with her squabs
These doves are colloquially known as turtle doves. A name that came about because they typically mate for life and can often be seen cuddling or preening one another - behavior indicative of their social nature. Mourning doves prefer having a companion and mated pairs share a lot of the same responsibilities when it comes to nesting. So what happens when one mate dies?
If a female mourning dove loses her partner after the eggs are laid or while the young are still in the nest, she will often attempt to incubate the eggs or feed the nestlings on her own.
This is a herculean task for one bird, especially during incubation where one mate or the other is on the eggs constantly. Once the eggs are hatched, it is still difficult for the female to forage and protect her young at the same time. Thus, the effort to raise young alone is often unsuccessful.
In time, though, the female will find a new mate. If it is early in the season, she will likely still raise a successful brood. It is normal for these birds to nest two to four times in a year, if not more.
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