The mourning dove is one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. They are at least part-time residents throughout the entire continent as well as Central America, and live year-round in most of the United States. Mourning doves weigh on average 4-6 ounces; have a wingspan of 18 inches, and a total body length of 9-14 inches. They have plump bodies, a long pointed tail, and a comparatively small head and bill. They are light brown in color with a pinkish tint on the undersides and usually have black spots on their wings.
Mourning doves can be found in just about any habitat in North America except for dense forests and swamps; they prefer open areas with plenty of perching options such as trees and power lines. Because of their preference for open space, mourning doves have adapted remarkably well to living in suburban areas and can frequently be spotted around parks and backyards. Some mourning doves do migrate as far south as Central America for the winter, but this is not always the case. Even in Canada and the northern U.S. many mourning doves become permanent residents if a food source such as a bird feeder is available.
Seeds make up the vast majority of the mourning dove’s diet and it is a frequent visitor at bird feeders. They will occasionally eat snails or insects, but this rare. Mourning doves feed on open ground. When they eat, they store the food in an enlargement in their esophagus called a crop, sometimes storing more than 10,000 seeds at a time. Once the dove has eaten enough to fill its crop it will ascend to a perch in a tree or power pole to digest the food from the crop to the stomach.
The mourning dove is a very strong flier, and can reach speeds of up 55mph in the air. While its flying ability may protect it from ground-based predators, it is still predated heavily by a variety of hawks and falcons. However it also a very popular game bird and it is estimated that between 40-70 million mourning doves are taken by hunters each year.
Mourning doves usually make their nests in trees. Nesting sites are chosen by the female from an assortment of sites presented to her by the male. Once a nesting site is chosen the male will travel throughout the area gathering twigs and vegetation, bringing the material to the female for her to build the nest. Mourning doves are monogamous and usually mate for life
Mourning doves nearly always lay two eggs, which will require about 2 weeks of incubation; a task shared by both parents. Once born, the young pigeons, called squabs, will be fed pigeon’s milk (a high-protein excretion regurgitated from the parent dove’s crop) for their first few days of life, eventually moving on to seeds. The squabs will be ready to leave the nest within two weeks, but will stick close to their father for feeding for an additional two weeks after that. Mourning doves can raise up to six broods per season, and are therefore very widespread. It is estimated that the U.S. population alone of these birds is 350 million.
MOURNING DOVE FACTS
- Mourning doves can fit over 17,000 blugrass seeds in their crops.
- On average, mourning doves eat 12 to 20% of their body weight every day.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology