Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are attractive-looking medium-sized doves from the large Columbidae family. These pleasant birds are a common sight throughout the USA and live in a huge range of environments ranging from the cold mountainous regions of the north to the desert in the south. Mourning doves are prolific breeders that can raise an astounding six broods in one year, but how long do Mourning doves live?
Mourning doves breed so much for a reason - they have a lifespan of just 1 to 1.5 years on average. Mortality rates are high, and as many as 75% of juvenile Mourning doves die before their 1st birthday. Once they turn 1-years-old, Mourning doves still only have a 50:50 chance of surviving each year, at best.
Despite high mortality rates, many Mourning doves do live much longer lives. The oldest known Mourning dove was an impressive 30 years, 4 months old, and was shot in Florida in 1998 - who knows how much longer he could’ve soldiered on for!
There are an estimated 475 million Mourning doves in the USA, which shows that this flexible, adaptable species is doing something right. Read on to learn more about the longevity and lifespan of this wonderful bird!
Mourning Doves are also known as American mourning doves, rain doves, and colloquially as the turtle dove
Mourning doves live for around 1 to 1.5 years on average, but the range is massive, approximately 1 to 20 years or even longer.
Mourning dove survival is unpredictable and volatile; those who live in safe, food-abundant environments are likely to live longer than average. However, the fact is that most Mourning doves die as nestlings, or fail to make it to their first birthday.
Wild Mourning doves have an average lifespan of just 1 to 1.5 years. This is low for a bird of their size, and most pigeons and doves are expected to live for slightly longer, albeit often marginally.
In their first year after hatching, as many as 75% of Mourning doves succumb to predation, starvation, or disease. After their first birthday, an adult Mourning dove’s year-on-year survival rate is around 50 to 60%. Studies have revealed that Mourning dove survival varies throughout the USA and that some northerly latitude populations live longer, but the data is pretty sparse.
The oldest Mourning dove was over 30-years-old, which shows that the maximum biological age of these birds is very high.
A mourning dove perched on a branch
Pet or captive doves, in general, can live for 20 years or longer.
While Mourning doves aren’t typically kept as pets, pigeon and dove keepers report that they’re excellent pets. Doves are warm, docile, and kind-natured and are renowned for their soothing coo-like call.
Mourning doves usually die from predation, disease, or starvation. Many Mourning doves die as chicks, before they even fledge.
Nest failure rates range between 40 and 80%, and any unfledged nestlings will almost certainly die if the nest fails. In addition, nests often fail due to adverse weather (which accounted for 33% of nestling and fledgling losses in one study in Alabama), and predation. Mourning dove nests are often small and unstable, making them susceptible to strong winds. Predation by corvids, raccoons, rat snakes, cats, and fox squirrels is most common.
Once fledged, Mourning doves are hardly safe, and their mortality rate remains around 75% in their first year. Young Mourning doves usually die from predation, starvation, and disease. Juveniles are less alert to predators than adults.
Adult Mourning doves continue to face threats from all angles, and most have an above-50% chance of death each year. It sounds like doom and gloom, but many Mourning doves do go on to live longer lives, as shown by the oldest Mourning dove, who reached the ripe old age of 30-years and 4-months!
Mourning dove life is fast, but they make the most of it by raising between 2 to 6 broods of chicks every year.
Many mourning doves die before leaving the nest
Mourning doves are afflicted by many viral, bacterial, protozoan, and fungal diseases. Trichomoniasis is particularly prominent, a parasitic protozoan disease that causes obstructive yellow growths in the dove’s mouth. Though typically asymptomatic, these growths can eventually cause starvation.
Avian pox is another significant disease that affects doves, and several fungus species are found in their digestive tracts. Healthy adult birds are typically unaffected by such fungal infections, especially during the warmer spring and summer months. In addition, a wide range of parasites affect doves, both as nestlings and adults.
Mourning doves are popular gamebirds, and around 20 million are shot every year. Their population is well-managed for hunting, which hasn’t threatened the overall populations of Mourning doves which are stable or growing in most regions.
Mourning doves are predated by a wide array of avian and terrestrial predators. Hawks, falcons, and owls prey upon both juvenile and adult Mourning doves, though these agile birds are tougher to catch than many other species of doves or pigeons. Domestic cats, dogs, raccoons, snakes, and squirrels are also common predators.
A pair of Mourning Doves perched in a maple tree in midwinter
Mourning doves are fast, agile birds and are not as easy to catch as many other medium-sized birds. Nevertheless, they face a wide range of threats on land and in the air.
Mourning doves face avian predators such as falcons, diurnal owls, grackles, hawks, and corvids. Corvids, grackles, and cowbirds may raid/predate Mourning dove nests. In addition, magpies, crows, and jays often target the eggs.
Studies have shown that Mourning doves are quite unlikely to be predated by hawks and falcons, as they’re one of the more fast and agile species of doves or pigeons.
In terms of terrestrial predators, Mourning doves face predation by housecats, raccoons, rat snakes, and squirrels. Adult Mourning doves are agile and are unlikely to be caught by most of these animals, but nestlings and fledglings are vulnerable. The domestic cat is one of the most likely predators in urban or suburban environments.
Mourning Dove foraging for food on the ground
The oldest known Mourning dove was a male, who was an estimated 30-years and 4-months old when found in Florida, 1998. The bird was banded in Georgia in 1968.
This is quite a surprise given the 1 to 1.5-year average lifespan of most Mourning doves. It shows that these birds are certainly biologically capable of living very long lives if conditions are favorable, not to mention a large helping of luck and fortune!
Mourning doves need to feed every day - studies have shown that they eat around 16% of their body weight per day. These omnivorous birds are frequently seen grazing on the ground throughout the day.
Mourning doves could feasibly survive for a couple of days without food, but this is certainly not their preference! Pet doves and pigeons are usually fed a couple of times a day.
Mourning Dove perched in a tree
Mourning doves are migratory, heading south in the winter in pursuit of food and warmth.
The vast majority of Mourning doves in Canada and the northwest USA migrate in winter. Most birds in the interior western states also migrate. Mourning doves in the east and the southeast USA may only migrate a short distance. Most birds head to Texas, Mexico, and Central America, or head along the Atlantic seaboard to Florida or the Caribbean.
Mourning doves are an IUCN species of Least Concern, and their populations are stable in most regions. In terms of hunting, Mourning doves are illegal to hunt in Massachusetts, Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.
Where Mourning doves are hunted, state laws often prohibit certain forms of hunting, and provide limits and guidance to prevent overhunting. Overall, hunting of Mourning doves is considered ‘well managed’ in that it doesn’t harm their overall conservation status.
A flock of mourning doves at a bird feeder
Mourning doves are one of the most abundant birds in North America, even despite living for just 1 to 1.5 years. So, how do they pull that off?
The answer is simple: by breeding, and by breeding a lot! Mourning doves pair up within months of fledging and can raise as many as six broods (though that really is the upper limit). That equates to around 4 to 6 surviving chicks, which is plenty for these birds to maintain their high population.
It’s rare for Mourning doves to raise fewer than two broods in one season, so if a pair does go on to live for three, four, or five years, or longer, then that’s a lot of baby Mourning doves!
Mourning doves are considered some of the most prolific breeders of all birds, and the most prolific breeders in North America. Their sheer will, tenacity, and desire to breed is what makes them so successful, despite the pressure of high mortality.
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