From suburban gardens to farms and wilderness areas, the mourning dove is one of the most common and familiar birds in North America.
Pair of Mourning Doves perched in a tree
Close up of a perched Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove perched on a vine, with a House Sparrow in the background
Family:Pigeons and doves
22.5cm to 34cm
37cm to 45cm
86g to 170g
Mourning doves have thin, black beaks, black eyes, and pinkish-red legs. The most distinctive features of the mourning dove are the collection of black spots on top of the closed wing, and the black spot on the side of the head.
Mourning doves are small, elegant birds that have a soft grey overall color when viewed from a distance. They have a heavy-set profile with a round head and an elongated tail.
Closer inspection reveals that the back and wings are a greyish blue/brown color and the underparts are a soft buffy peach color.
Adult male and female mourning doves look mostly alike, but males tend to have a blueish crown and a more colorful breast than females. These features are useful but not always reliable for telling the gender of mourning doves.
Juvenile mourning doves are quite distinct from adults. They have whitish plumage on the head and face, and the feathers of the upper parts are tipped in white.
Close up of a Mourning Dove
There are five accepted subspecies of mourning doves, and the two that occur in the United States vary somewhat in size. The eastern subspecies are typically larger than the western subspecies.
Male mourning doves are slightly larger than females, measuring 10.5-13.5 inches (26.5-34cm) in length. Females measure 9-12 inches (22.5-31cm) in length. These common doves have a wingspan of 14.5-17.5 inches (37-45cm).
Male mourning doves are also slightly heavier than females. Males weigh between 3.5 and 6 ounces (96-170g) while females measure 3-5.5oz (86-156g).
Read on to learn more about the biology and behavior of the mourning dove.
Mourning Dove eating seeds from a platform bird feeder
Mourning doves make a typical ‘coo-ing’ song. Males produce the familiar four or five noted songs from a prominent perch to attract a mate. This song starts with 'coo-oo' that rises in pitch and is then followed by two or three louder 'OO' notes.
Male mourning doves also produce a three-noted 'coo OO oo' call when selecting a nest site. Female mourning doves produce an 'ohr ohr' call to attract the male to the nest when it's time to switch places during incubation.
Mourning doves feed almost exclusively on seeds. They show a preference for agricultural crop seeds like sunflowers, corn, and wheat but also feed on a variety of wild grass and shrub seeds.
For more information on the diet of a mourning dove, check out this comprehensive guide.
Baby mourning doves (known as squabs) are fed a special diet known as crop milk for the first 4 or 5 days after hatching. Both parents produce this protein, mineral, and fat-rich food source.
After the first week or so, the chicks are fed the same seeds that the adults feed on. Fledgling doves will continue to be fed by the male for 12 days after leaving the nest.
Mourning Dove perched on a fence post during the autumn
Mourning doves occupy a very wide range of habitats but tend to avoid dense forest environments. These birds prefer open habitats including scrub, agricultural fields, forest edges, and open woodland.
Mourning doves occur right across the United States. They can also be found in the south of Canada, through Central America to Panama, and from Cuba to the West Indies.
Mourning doves spend their days foraging for seeds on the ground. They avoid dense vegetation where the seeds they eat will be hard to find.
At night, these birds usually roost in dense branches of trees where they will be safe from predators, although they have been found sleeping on the ground too.
Mourning Doves are one of the most common bird species in the US
The mourning dove is one of the most abundant bird species in the United States. Their total population is likely to be between 300 and 500 million individuals.
Mourning doves are common birds in farmland and suburban areas across the United States. They can be attracted to backyards by spreading birdseed on the ground or on open platform feeders. These birds can also be spotted in a variety of open habitats in parks and wilderness areas.
A pair of Mourning Doves perched on a branch
The mourning dove lifespan varies depending on many factors. In the wild, mourning doves are thought to live for as long as 19 years, but one amazing individual was found to live for over 30 years.
Nevertheless, these birds are highly unlikely to survive that long in nature. In fact, most mourning doves are only expected to live for a single year.
Mourning doves are hunted by a very wide range of predators. Raptors like falcons and hawks are important diurnal predators, but owls will also feed on these birds after dark. Mammals like raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and domestic cats will also feed on these common birds.
Mourning doves are an extremely popular game bird with hunters across the United States. Millions of these abundant game birds are harvested each year.
Mourning doves are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Mourning doves are not endangered. They are evaluated as ‘Least Concern’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Mourning Dove in flight
Mourning doves nest in a variety of sites. These birds construct a simple platform nest in a bush, tree, man-made structure, or even on the ground. They favor sites where open areas meet woodlands, but they are happy to nest around human habitation.
Their nests can be constructed anywhere from ground level to over 260 feet (80 m) up in trees and other structures.
Mourning dove eggs are pure white without any markings. They measure 1-1.2 inches (2.6-3cm) long and 0.8-0.9 inches (2.1-2.3cm) wide. These eggs usually weigh 0.2-0.25 ounces (6-7g).
Mourning doves form pairs and may stay together for more than a single breeding season. They do not necessarily mate for life, however, and they may acquire a new partner before the start of the next nesting period.
Nesting Mourning Dove
Mourning doves are generally gentle creatures. They are not really equipped for protecting themselves against predators or for fighting with other birds.
Mourning doves will defend food sources and attack intruders by thrusting their wings and beaks when necessary. They will also put on a display by lifting their wings and spreading their tail feathers to intimidate threats.
Mourning doves from colder northern areas do migrate south for the winter. The migration distance varies greatly, with some birds flying thousands of miles each year and others only moving short distances.
In the south of their range, where winters are mild, mourning doves do not need to migrate at all.
Mourning Dove drinking water from a small pond
Mourning is a word that conjures up some pretty sad and melancholy emotions. While mourning doves might be beautiful creatures, it is their somber and haunting calls that have earned them this name.
Mourning doves are commonly seen in pairs during the breeding season. They will join up to form large flocks in the fall and at other times of the year, however.
Mourning doves usually roost in trees, bushes, and other elevated positions. They will sleep on the ground in very open environments, however.
The UKs only migratory dove species, the Turtle Dove is a beautiful bird in serious decline.
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