Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mourning Dove--Zenaida macroura

Mourning Dove at Huntington Central Park.

The mournful calling of the Mourning Dove filled my childhood in the San Gabriel Valley. That sound is one of my earliest memories as I was put to bed on a summer evening. It is a sound that even today brings back the smell of eucalyptus in our yard and the memories of mounds of snowy, white clusters of sweet alyssum in the flowerbeds. Sounding so like the owl, the cooing of the Mourning Doves felt comforting and put me to sleep many hot, summer evenings long before the sun went down.

What's up, Doc?

In 2005, they estimated the populations of Mourning Doves in the United States to be just over 400 million birds. Although the Mourning Dove is a very common bird, it is also a very cute bird and can be rather endearing. I love to watch them. And I love the way they poke around the gravel, the patio, and the dirt, and the way their wings make a whistling sound as they fly away. This little Mourning Dove (above) was interested in the goings on in the apartment above.

Looking for seeds.

Mourning Doves eat seeds. They pick through things on the ground and eat the seeds and grain. I often find them on the ground on my patio sifting through the dirt or through the seeds that have fallen from the bird feeder. Less commonly, they will also eat insects and fruit. According to Sibley, members of the Pigeon and Dove families are able to suck up water, rather than scoop it up and tilting the head back to swallow. Sibley comments that this is a safer way to drink since sucking up water is faster than the scoop-and-tilt method. (The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, page 321.) The folks at the Chipperwood Observatory point out that the amount of weed seeds a Mourning Dove consumes make the species a pretty good weed control method. My indoor cats love to watch them through the window as the Mourning Doves forage in our yard.

A pair of Mourning Doves.

Mourning Doves mate for life which can be from an average of under two years to-- in rare cases-- almost 20 years. (Although some resources imply Mourning Doves mate for a season, Chipperwood Observatory states that banding data suggests they mate for life.) Mourning Doves are plentiful in the United States, and they may be hunted in season in some areas. Both the male and female attend the flimsy nest with the male taking a shift in the middle of the morning to later part of the afternoon. They both begin feeding the hatched nestlings a substance called crop milk, and then shift over time to the seeds that will provide the bulk of their diets as adults. Pigeons and Doves all feed nestlings crop milk which is like a cheesey fat and lipid-and-protein-packed food that is filled with nutrients for growing nestlings. The Mourning Dove has only 2 eggs per nest and that is about all that their supply of crop-milk will sustain.


As Seattle's BirdWeb points out, they are the most slender member of the Pigeon and Dove family. The male is slightly larger, has a slightly blue crown and nape. His throat and breast have a rosy or pinkish wash. The female is grayer in color. Both have large spots on their backs and a thin, tapering tail. An immature Mourning Dove's feather's look a bit scaly. The Mourning Dove is quite prolific, raising three and more broods in one breeding season. The breeding season runs from March through September.

Laying Low.

The Mourning Dove's range is from Canada south through Panama in Central America. Only the northern populations migrate. It is a species that fills our cities and our countryside. The Mourning Dove like Woodlands and forests near grasslands or meadow.

Afternoon exercises. Wing stretch. Left, right. Left...

This twosome I saw were very cute. Not sure what this little dove was doing, but she started stretching out one wing and then the other repeatedly. She bonked her mate on the head, but he just moved out of the way.

Right. Oops. Sorry, honey.

Perhaps only a species that mates for life could be so tolerant.

Mourning Dove at Huntington Central Park. Looks like a male. Notice the rosy wash.

I see them so many places I go birding in Orange County. They are in the trees and on the paths of San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, Huntington Central Park, and Santiago Oaks. The only places I don't see them are right on the beach.

Mourning Doves are one of those common birds that if you just watch you fall in love with and helps you remember that part of bird watching is studying bird behavior, not just racking up the numbers and hitting the marks. Being intimately acquainted with a species is just as important as seeing a lot of birds. Sitting and observing is part of the thing we birders love to do. Sometimes we forget as we run off to find the next bird that the life in front of us is worth tarrying for. Worth trying to understand a little better.

As you go birding in Orange County, remember to tarry, even in your own back yard and become acquainted with the species you live with all year round. It is the essence of birding.

Mourning Dove Goes Courting from OC Birder Girl on Vimeo.

OC Birder Girl Links

Birding Hot Spots in Orange County, California

Lots of parks and places to see Mourning Doves.

Central Park in Huntington Beach

Great place to see Mourning Doves.

Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

There are Mourning Doves here and there in the trees and on the paths and out in the wetlands. Not as easy to spot as Central Park in Huntington Beach, but they are there.

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary

Great place to see Mourning Doves. I often see them near the Audubon House in the trees or in the butterfly garden.

External Links and Resources

All About Birds: Mourning Dove

Detailed article from Cornell Lab in New York about the Mourning Dove.

Animal Diversity Web: Mourning Dove

Great detailed article about the Mourning Dove.

Bird Web: Mourning Dove

Good article from the Seattle Audubon Society on Mourning Doves.


(Wilson Bulletin: Vol. 101, No. 1, January-March, 1989) Good detailed article on relation of crop milk to number of eggs laid and nestlings raised.

Internet Bird Collection: American Mourning Dove

Good quality videos of Mourning Doves.

Mourning Dove in Missouri

Good Article about Mourning Doves. Don't forget to click on the navigation links on the left side of their page for more informaton.

Wildlife Habitat Council: Mourning Dove

Long and detailed PDF article about the Mourning Dove.

USGS: Mourning Dove

Short, but good article.

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