Mourning Dove

Bird of the Month: Mourning Dove

By Andy McCormick

PC: Mick Thompson (Mourning Dove)

PC: Mick Thompson (Mourning Dove)

Scientific Name: Zenaida macroura

Length 12"

Wingspan: 18"

Weight: 4.2 oz (120 g)

AOU Band code MODO

The mournful oowoo wooo woo woo (Alderfer) is the source of the Mourning Dove’s name.  But its genus Zenaida, which it shares with the White-winged Dove Z. asiatica and Zenaida Dove Z. aurita, is named for a princess.  Princess Zenaida Laetitia Julie Bonaparte had a husband Prince Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte, who was a well-known French ornithologist. The species macroura is from the Greek, macros, long and oura, tail (Holloway).  The Mourning Dove is the most common and widespread dove in North America and it is our most slender dove with a long, pointed tail.  A fluttering whistle is often heard as the bird takes flight.

The Mourning Dove has a typical dove’s small, round head, plump body, and short legs and bill.  It’s long black and white trimmed tail is distinctive however. It is generally brown overall with a black bill, red legs and a black arc below the auricular area.  The male has a pinkish bloom on the breast.  The female has reduced pink color, and the juvenile has a scaly-brown breast.  The brown scapulars contrast with darker flight feathers and black spots on both tertials and coverts are visible when in flight and when the wings are folded.  It is a ground feeder and seeds comprise 99% of its diet (Otis). Mourning Doves migrate various distances with those in the northernmost range migrating the farthest, those at middle latitudes migrating a shorter distance and those in the southern latitudes staying year round (Otis).

Mourning Doves live on a very fast track and are prolific breeders.  They reach sexual maturity in less than three months and will live only one year.  In that time a pair can produce up to six broods in warmer climates.  The nest is a flimsy collection of sticks which is so open that the usual two white eggs can be seen through the bottom. Nests are built in trees, on building ledges, or cliffs.  Occasionally Mourning Doves will re-use their own nests or those of other Mourning Doves, and will sometimes build their nest atop those of other species such as American Robin, Common Grackle and Blue Jay (Otis). Incubation takes two weeks and in another two weeks the squabs fledge. Hatchlings are fed with a milky liquid called pigeon milk or crop milk made from cells sloughing off the crop. The liquid is concentrated protein and fat.  The squabs will peck at the corner of the parent’s mouth stimulating regurgitation of the crop milk (Kaufman).

The Mourning Dove population is very stable.  It has done very well in response to human intervention in the environment since it shuns forested areas and wetlands, and prefers open spaces in both rural and urban habitats. It is a migratory game bird in 38 of the 48 contiguous states and the estimated annual take by hunters is between 20 and 45 million birds, which exceeds the annual harvest of all other migratory game birds combined (Otis).  A national roadside Call Count Survey (CCS) has been conducted since the 1960s and trends from this survey are used to establish hunting regulations.