13 Fascinating Mourning Dove Facts

Updated: Aug. 10, 2023

Mournings doves are common in backyards across America. Learn interesting facts you should know about the beautiful mourning dove.

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Meet the Mourning Dove

Mourning dovesCourtesy Teresa Taylor
You can find mourning doves across most of the United States.

Mourning doves are found throughout much of North America, but there is nothing common about these graceful birds. Here are some interesting facts about the mourning dove, which may enhance your appreciation of this bird.

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What Does a Mourning Dove Eat?

252881390 1 Jenni Daigle Bnb Bypc2020Courtesy Jenni Daigle
These birds eat seeds, not bugs.

Mourning doves are primarily seed-eaters, not insect-eaters. These birds 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.) These doves evolved specifically for ground foraging, eating up to 20% of their body weight in seeds daily.

To attract these gorgeous doves to your yard, install an open platform feeder, ground feeder or even scatter seeds across the ground. Wild grasses, grains and ragweed are a few of their favorite foods. They will eat larger seeds, including sunflower seeds, cracked corn and shelled peanuts in a pinch.

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Mourning Doves Stockpile Food

Dove Mrning Plowvd Kq7s0010Steve and Dave Maslowski
This dove may has seeds stored in its round breast.

When these birds 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. Then they head to a secluded perch for digestion. Mourning doves often have a noticeably round breast, since it expands during feeding. Scientists once found a record-holding bird with 17,200 bluegrass seeds stuffed away in its crop.

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What Does a Mourning Dove Look Like?

Dove Mourning2pring Vd Masp9999Steve and Dave Maslowski
Male and female mourning doves look the same.

Both male and female mourning doves are known for their brown and gray coloring, black spots, small heads and slender tails. “They have that really amazing mix of muted tones, with beautiful defined black spots on their wings. You can sort of see an iridescence,” says John Rowden, who is the senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society. They are 12 inches long with an 18 inch wingspan.

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Mourning Dove vs. Eurasian Collared Dove

mourning dovesCourtesy Lisa Mason
Mourning doves do not have a black band on their necks.

Mourning doves are sometimes confused with Eurasian collared doves or white-winged doves. If a thick black band is present on the collar, it’s a collared-dove. You can tell white-winged doves apart by their namesake white wing stripe.

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A Mourning Dove Has a Calming Call

dove in winterCourtesy Ray Parisi Jr
Bird lovers find the cooing call to be peaceful.

This bird has a distinctive call. Birds & Blooms readers say that a mourning dove’s soft cooing sound is comforting and calming. “I find mourning doves to be such beautiful, peaceful creatures,” says Patricia Welch of Salem, Connecticut.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Mourning Doves Have a Unique Sleeping Position

mourning dove sleepingCourtesy David Judy Pinner
Dove taking a nap during a winter snowfall

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.

How Fast Do Mourning Doves Fly?

Mouring Dove flyingJanet Griffin-Scott/Getty Images
Mourning doves are fast flyers

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! Discover the fastest birds in North America.

Mourning Doves Mate for Life

mourning doves cuddlingFrancis & Janice Bergquist
Two adults courting

It’s fairly common to see two mourning doves cuddling with each other. Mating pairs are monogamous and often mate for life. Another name sometimes used for them is “turtle doves.”

You won’t believe how fast mourning doves build nests.

Mourning Dove Nests Usually Have Two Eggs

277539530 1 Claudette Moore Bnb Bypc 2021Courtesy Claudette Moore
Nest with two eggs

When the females lay eggs, it is almost always just two. Singletons are rare, as are bigger clutches. Incubation takes just two weeks. Learn more about mourning dove eggs and baby mourning doves.

These Birds Have Good Co-Parenting Skills

baby mourning doveCourtesy Eileen Cole
Both parents take care of feeding the babies.

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. By two weeks, the youngsters are nearly fledged.

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Mourning Doves Have a Famous Ancestor

birth month birdsCourtesy Martin Torres
Doves and pigeons are related

Mourning doves are in the pigeon family. These birds are considered closely related to the late, lamented passenger pigeons.

Mourning Doves Are Hunted

A mourning dove sits in a tree.Courtesy Jeffrey Carter
Keep cats indoors to protect doves.

These doves are still hunted as a game bird in many areas and are easy prey for outdoor cats. However, I haven’t read any concerns about population decline. It’s estimated that there are more than 100 million mourning doves.

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Mourning Doves Have a Wide Range

Mourning Dove (zenaida Macroura) Incubating Its EggsJames Randklev/Getty Images
Mourning dove nesting on a cactus

You can spot mourning doves nearly anywhere—in cities, backyards and even the middle of the Mojave Desert. Birders commonly see mourning doves in southern Canada, the contiguous United States and northern Mexico. They are mainly attracted to open spaces, only avoiding areas with deep forests. “Wherever you are, you might have a mourning dove in your area,” John Rowden says. He adds that very few species are so common both geographically and seasonally.

Mourning Dove Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, learn the difference between a mourning dove vs a pigeon.