Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) are a beautiful addition to any backyard bird feeder, so if you’re interested in drawing them in, you may be wondering what they eat and what they don’t eat, so you can get them to stick around.
Mourning doves mainly eat seeds and greens, with the occasional berry or snail as an option. The diet of mourning doves consists of what can be found on the ground through foraging.
While you can continue your search for specific grains, greens, and berries to offer your mourning dove visitors, you could also stick around and see if your question is answered in the rest of this article. If you’d like a one-stop shop for your mourning dove diet questions, read on to get the specifics.
Mourning Dove foraging for food on the ground
American Mourning doves are vegetarian foragers. They have a preference for grass and weed seeds. The Doveweed, also called Tropic Croton, is a seed that will attract doves to the same feeding spot over and over again. Other kinds of grasses and weed seeds include:
If feeding the doves exclusively through feeders, doves have a particular fondness for grains. Examples of bird feeder seeds and grains that would keep mourning doves happy include:
Mourning Dove eating seeds from a backyard bird feeder
As mourning dove diets are almost entirely based on seeds, without the assistance of bird feeders, they would forage for wild grass seeds and weed seeds; however, depending on the wild environment, they may be able to eat from berry bushes and seed-bearing flowers. While they do prefer seeds, they do also eat the green part of grasses, weeds, and herbs.
The male and female mourning doves feed their young a substance called crop milk. This substance is milky but similar in consistency to cottage cheese. It is high in protein and fat and rich in antioxidants, sort of like a mammal’s milk. The baby doves eat crop milk exclusively for about the first week of life. After this point, the parents begin to introduce softened seed, and in about the third week, they will eat this almost exclusively.
Crop milk is made in the parents’ crop, a portion of the oesophagus that stores food prior to digestion. The process of creating crop milk involves the infusion of protein and fat-rich cells from the lining of this sac. This milk can not contain any seeds for the first few days of life, so adult doves may not eat for days before the eggs hatch to give the young milk that they can digest.
As the mourning dove's diet is heavily dependent on warm-weather conditions to provide seeds and ground access, doves cannot thrive in climates that freeze over during the winter. Because of this, they migrate to the southern states, Mexico, or Central America, eating their usual diet, which is still accessible through year-round warm weather.
In southern states, mourning doves can be residential, staying year-round and nesting longer into the season due to lengthy summers. In states farther north, doves will begin migration as early as late August.
A Mourning Dove during the winter
Due to their size, the only feeders mourning doves are comfortable eating from are wide-open platforms or tray feeders. Naturally, doves will also feed off the ground below the feeders, but only as long as seed husks aren’t too prolific.
Seeds in the feeder should include millet, wheat, corn, shelled sunflower seeds, and milo. Shelled peanuts may also be acceptable. If you really want to please the mourning dove, however, grass and flower seeds are their favorites.
Doves tend to prefer seeds without shells, so if you want doves to stick around, certain sunflower seeds and peanuts in the shell won’t be an attractive option for them; black-striped sunflower seeds, in particular. They also won’t eat flax seed or canary seed. Generally, iceberg lettuce and bread are not a good idea as they are low in nutritional content. Also, fruit and nectar feeders and cylinders or stackable feeders won’t be attractive to them.
A group of Mourning Doves foraging on the grass
Mourning doves typically do not eat insects unless they are desperate, so offering exclusively mealworms is a great way to keep mourning doves out of your yard. While they can and will eat mealworms, this is not their preferred food, nor is it good for them in excess. An occasional mealworm can pack a nutrient punch but puts doves at risk of fatty liver disease if eaten often.
While mourning doves will avoid black-striped sunflower seeds, they will eat black oil sunflower seeds. Because their beaks are not meant to crack open shells, they will be especially attracted to shelled sunflower seeds. Otherwise, they will swallow the seed in the shell whole.
Mourning Doves tend to prefer small to medium-sized seeds, but they do eat peanuts as long as they are shelled. Peanuts are high in fat and protein, so they are a great option for the winter months if mourning doves stay in your area throughout the year. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, roasted, un-shelled, and without salt or sugar are ideal. Raw peanuts or peanut hearts should be avoided.
A pair of mourning doves eating seeds off a feeding platform
Mourning doves love safflower seeds. As a flower seed of good size, it is the perfect seed for mourning doves. Similar to the black oil sunflower seed, safflower seed is high in protein and fat and is a conical seed. An added bonus if you like to avoid squirrels eating your bird feed is that squirrels do not like to eat safflower seeds.
If you want mourning doves, cracked corn is your best option. These birds go crazy for some cracked corn. As a protein and fiber-rich option, it is a great supplemental seed for them. Unless there is a platform or tray to offer it on, spread a small amount over the ground that can easily be eaten in a day to prevent the grains from molding.
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