10 Surprising Facts about Mourning Doves

I already knew, and maybe you did too, that mourning doves will sometimes hang around our cold, snowy Northeast winters rather than migrate, if there is food—that is, if we keep our birdfeeders stocked. My thoughts turned to this as I watched from the window as a pair of them scooped up some spillage off the ground below one of our backyard feeders. They’re still here, and I resolved to help them stay around, to keep it full. Though most people think their cooing call sounds sad, I actually find the sound of it somehow comforting.

Here are some things that I didn’t know about these very familiar birds, which may enhance your appreciation of them, too.

Mourning doves have fairly neutral coloration that allows them to blend in almost anywhere. Photo by Roland Jordahl/Birds & Blooms.

1- When they grab seeds off the ground, they are not necessarily eating them. Instead, they are stockpiling for digesting later. The seeds collect in the “crop,” which is simply an enlarged part of their esophagus.

2- They are primarily seed-eaters, not insect-eaters. They can and do eat weed seeds, which is certainly valuable to gardeners as well as farmers, or anyone living near overgrown vacant lots. (They do like corn, though.)

3- The cooooOOOOO-woo-woo-woo call is almost always uttered by the male bird, not the female, and is—wait for it—a wooing call, an enticement to a mate or potential mate.

4- When they sleep, their head rests between their shoulders, close to the body (they do not tuck their little heads under their shoulder feathers, like a lot of other birds do).

5- Their long, pointed wings are almost falcon-like in appearance, while their pointed tails are longer than those of any other doves. These “design features” enable the birds to fly fast. Mourning doves have been clocked at 55 mph!

6- When they lay eggs, it is almost always just two. (Singletons are rare, as are bigger clutches.) Incubation takes just two weeks.

7- Males and females work together to feed their new babies something called “crop milk” or “pigeon milk” for the first few days of their life. Rich in protein and fat, it resembles cottage cheese, is secreted by the adults’ crop lining, and is regurgitated to the little ones. Weaning is fast, though—by the fourth day of life, the diet starts to segue to seeds, and by two weeks, the youngsters are nearly fledged.

8- Mourning doves are considered closely related to the late, lamented passenger pigeons.

9- These doves are still hunted in many areas. However, I haven’t read any concerns about population decline.

10- Pairs tend to mate for life. Another name for them is “turtle doves.” So, small wonder that the author of the favorite Christmas song kept them as a pair. (Besides, “a mourning dove in a pear tree” just doesn’t sound right!)

For more, check out this overview article from the excellent Birds & Blooms library.

 

  1. Deborah says

    Hi Teri,
    I certainly DID appreciate your 10 surprising facts about Mourning Doves. They are always welcome in my yard.-and
    knowing more about them, makes their visits, that more special. THANKS!!

  2. Bill Plummer says

    If you, like me, don’t like mourning doves just be certain the seed you put out for the birds totally lacks cracked corn. Cracked corn is a major ingredient in most bird food mixes because it is a cheap filler and people think it will attract wild turkeys.

    • CourtSport says

      I love morning doves and love the facts about them. We have tons of them nesting around are farm house! Yes they love corn, hince we live in Nebraska! How can you not love morning doves? There sound is so calming compared to others wild birds.

  3. Karen says

    I enjoyed your article about the mourning doves. They are one of my favorites. They are around my feeders all winter – some go up in the feeders and some prefer to eat off of the ground. It disturbs me that from time to time I’ve seen feathers on the ground and I know that one of my doves has been taken either by a hawk or neighborhood cat. But, that is the down side of nature.

  4. Sidney says

    Hi Terri,
    I enjoyed your comments about mourning doves, I enjoy their presence year round, may I share an encounter I had the opportunity to have last summer (2010).
    Early one morning I noticed an adult dove sitting in the front lawn, thinking maybe it was wounded, I approached it, within 5 foot, wheather the bird was male or female, I don’t know, on closer investigation, I discovered a baby hidden under the adult’s wing, it had probably fallen out of the nest or most likely attempted its maiden flight and fallen to the ground.
    I got my camera and took many pictures at different angles, as close as 2 feet away. When I finished photographing the scene, I placed the baby on a low branch of a willow tree, the parent continued to feed the baby for 4 days on the branch, meanwhile, the baby moved higher each day, on the fifth morning it had flown away

  5. jess bradshaw says

    It is so sad that terrible people like bill plummer even exist. I feel not only contempt, but pity for people like him, empty and cold, most likely a hunter and killer of birds. I have so many heartwarming and also heartbreaking stories about these lovely doves, there is not enough room here to share it all. Suffice it to say, that these loving birds are extremely loyal to their mates as well as their babies.
    I recently had to stop my car to pick up a dead dove who had apparently been hit by a car, to put her on the “island” of pine trees that runs down the middle of our street, so that her mate would be able to sit by her side to “mourn” her safely, and not out in the road where he had been staying next to her side risking being killed himself.

    • says

      Yeah too bad I love these creatures sometimes in winter
      They stay if your feeders are still their in stock
      Once I found one in a bush and a year later they were
      Gone they are back now I named one doe mane yu could name one
      Something like I don’t know .

      What’s your phone number?

    • celena z says

      thank you for you insight to their behaviour of loyalty – I now understand more why they are called mourning doves. I had one in my backyard that mourning for days for a mate that got killed somehow. It was so sas.

  6. says

    My dad said one time a hawk was flying for food
    And it swooped down and it almost caught
    One but my dad shot it with a pelet Gun

  7. Christina says

    hello Teri,

    i just want to ask you a question.. do you have any idea why dove always sit in the same spot every morning and evening facing to our house… dove sitting on the electric wire sitting facing to our house… what does it tell us ?? please let me know thanks

  8. says

    Question: What might it mean when a dove lands on a human’s head and stays for about 15 seconds? This happened to my son living in Mississippi. Interesting, huh?

    • Karen says

      We have a mourning dove in our yard. Every year it has a nest in our porch light. This spring it started flying really low and landing in mine and my daughters head. It scares the crap out of us because it just comes out of nowhere! I would like to know what it means also. We are getting to be afraid to go out of our house now.

  9. Paul Kemprecos says

    Help A pair of mourning doves has built a nest in the garage mechanism of our house in Arizona. The opener chain runs right through the nest. We have coped with this by shooing the dove off the nest whenever we have wanted to open or close the door. We are leaving for a few days for our home in New England and will have rental tenants in after us. We’ll probably leave a note describing the dove shooing procedure, but are a little worried what might happen if the eggs hatch and the young ones are close to the chain. Any suggestions?

  10. Sunny says

    Paul, is it possible to move the nest to a nearby location? Maybe a shelf near the garage or a nearby tree branch?

  11. Joan Johnson says

    We have a baby in our palm tree. He is getting bigger by the day! We have not seen any adult doves around for a few days and are a little concerned. He does seem to be doing okay. Do they adults leave them after a few days.
    thanks
    Joan

  12. Judy C. says

    We are SO excited that mourning doves have built a nest right outside our dining room window, If we opened it, we could easlily touch the nest. It is exciting waiting for the babies to hatch! My husband thinks I’ll never let him reomove the tree now, which was our plan before nature arrived—

  13. Helen Savage says

    We are confused and worried. A mourning dove has nested under the eaves of our front porch, and has been there for at least a month. She just stays on the nest most of the time. We thought we saw one baby bird, but it doesn’t seem to be there any more. Anyone have any comments?

  14. Merilyn Wiedefeld says

    Yes, the adults leave too soon, in my estimation. Almost sad! They seem so pre-occupied with rebuilding the nest, and “starting” their next family. This morning, our newest little baby was aimlessly walking around under the nest(the nest is up high on a ledge of our deck), when either the mother or father (hard to tell), swooped down on the baby, pecked it, and several feather went flying. The baby took off and haven’t seen him since. I do think this is the way they teach the babies to fly, although seemed sad to me.

  15. Carrie says

    I found these 2 Doves pitched on the ledge of our back porch. Not knowing what they were (I thought they were pigeons), I post them on Facebook. I was told they were Mourning Doves. The 2 doves made a nest in a box I had planted veggies in last year. They nested until they had their babies and I haven’t seen them since. I feel blessed they chose our house. I’ve heard it is a symbol of peace and know they’re mentioned many times in the bible regarding peace. Yay for us. The only species I won’t try to get out of our yard.

  16. Amanda_S55 says

    Hey!
    I was wondering something. Why are the Mourning Doves *so* fat? Whenever I see one on my feeders, they’re always plump. Maybe because they eat almost ALL of the seeds in the tube feeder? I don’t know.
    Thanks;)

  17. Eleanor bart says

    Your article was very informative.
    Question for you. We had doves nesting in. One of our trees. At first I saw the male and female . Then there appeared to be only one bird. Then the bird abandoned the nest with two eggs. I thought perhaps one of them was killed and so the other one abandoned the nest. Is this possible?

    • mark says

      I have been having doves nesting in my geranium hanging planters for 3yrs .now. I believe they are the same pair every yr. They nest right outside my patio doors. I have 3 planters, this yr. they they laid 1egg, nestled it for 4 days, and now they have moved to another planter, and appear to be starting all over. The 1 egg has just seemed to have been a banded. What’s with that?

  18. Teresa says

    I have a pair in one of my conifers right now. They built their nest pretty low and my dogs were going crazy. I got my husband to figure out a way to keep the dogs away from them, but I’m now concerned that the babies might hop or fly too far away from the tree where the dogs can get to them. It’s so amazing how vigilant they are, even with all that barking, the lawn mower and the passing storms. Beautiful birds!

    It’s a Partridge in the pear tree…

  19. says

    I live in New Mexico, and we have many pine trees on our property. Morning Doves are very smart! They tap on my window, when the feeder is empty! :) They love music, especially soft sounds. I put the music on and they sit on a branch and stare at me lololol. I just love them :)

  20. Bill says

    I live in San Marcos Ca, and we have had 3 pairs of new babies. They have nested in our Christmas catus away from prying eyes of predators and seem to be safe a they are fun to watch as mom feeds her baby. It’s so sweet.
    I really love nature and all that it has for us to watch and learn.

  21. Pahpillion says

    Hi Teri,
    I have a bird sanctuary where many birds live in harmony; sparrows, at least three types of doves and some grackles. Also, there is a pair of mockingbirds that have been bringing their young to feed at the sanctuary for about 4 years now. This year they had triplets. The strange thing is that when the triplets left their nest (from across the street), they came to a tree in my back yard where a mourning dove was incubating. About a week later the moker chicks seem to have taken over the dove’s nest. The dove apparently abandoned the nest; or did it?

  22. says

    enjoyed your comments doves had 1 or babies and a week old they were gone wondered if a hawk got them now in the same planter they are back for 3 days and I guess are going to use it again it is right outside our open livingroom window where tv is on etc.and doesent seem to deter them

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