Mourning Dove  

(Zenaida macroura)


Common Names Turtle dove, dove.


Description The mourning dove is the most common of the North American doves. It has a slim body and long, tapered tail that distinguish it from other doves. The male and female are nearly identical, with a fawn-colored neck and undersides. The back and tail are slate gray to grayish brown, and the wings have black spots. The feet are red. Juveniles resemble adults by fall, but are slightly smaller.



Age and Growth Adults measure 11 to 13 inches long and weigh 3 1/2 to 5 ounces.

Migration The breeding range runs from southern Canada and into Mexico. Because mourning doves are unable to tolerate cold weather, the fall migration in the northern part of the range begins as early as late August. Most birds reach their wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States in October and November. Southern birds do not migrate.

Habitat Mourning doves can adapt to almost any upland habitat, with the exception of dense woods. They are common in urban and agricultural areas.

Food Habits These doves feed heavily on seeds, including those of doveweed, foxtail, ragweed and wild hemp. At harvest time, they visit crop fields to feed on small grains.

Mourning doves typically fly from roosting trees to open feeding fields in morning, return to the trees at midday, and fly back to feeding areas in late afternoon. After feeding, they pick up grit, then fly to watering holes before roosting.

Breeding After establishing a territory, the male attracts a mate by cooing and making display flights, consisting of noisy wing beats followed by glides.

The hen builds a nest of loosely arranged sticks, usually in a tree or shrub, but sometimes on the ground or even on a building ledge. She lays 2 to 3 white eggs, which hatch in about 15 days. Both parents care for the young, feeding them crop milk, a high-protein, milk like substance secreted from the crop. Mourning doves may raise several broods in one season.

Social Interaction In the fall, the birds gather in migrating flocks numbering as many as 100 birds. The mournful mating call, for which the bird is named, is a 5- to 7-note cooing sound.

Population Stable. Because the birds often raise multiple broods and adapt so well to different habitats, populations easily withstand bad weather, predators and other threats. Mourning doves are the most numerous of all North American game birds.

Hunting Strategies The usual technique is to pass-shoot these fast, acrobatic birds as they fly into feeding or watering areas. Many hunters use dove decoys to draw the birds into shooting range. Despite their tremendous popularity throughout most of the country, doves cannot be taken in several northern states.

Eating Quality Good; the breast is dark but fairly mild-tasting.