10 Fascinating Facts About Mourning Doves

Mournings doves are beloved in backyards across America. Learn fascinating facts you should know about these beautiful doves.

Mourning dovesCourtesy Teresa Taylor

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 bird feeders 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 mourning doves, which may enhance your appreciation of them, too. Check out 15 breathtaking photos of mourning doves.

Mourning Doves Stockpile Food

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.

What Do Mourning Doves Eat?

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.) Here’s the best way to attract birds that don’t visit bird feeders.

What Does a Mourning Dove Call Sound Like?

Why do doves coo? The cooooOOOOO-woo-woo-woo call is almost always uttered by the male mourning dove, not the female. These distinctive mourning dove sounds are—wait for it—a wooing call, an enticement to a mate or potential mate. Next learn about the many sounds of hummingbirds.

Unique Sleeping Position

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). Check out other common backyard birds you should know.

How Fast Do Mourning Doves Fly?

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!

Two Eggs are Common in Mourning Dove Nests

When they lay eggs, it is almost always just two. (Singletons are rare, as are bigger clutches.) Incubation takes just two weeks. This is what you should do when you find a bird nest.

Good Co-Parenting Skills

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. Discover more of the best bird dads.

Mourning Doves Have a Famous Ancestor

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

Doves are Hunted

These doves are still hunted in many areas. However, I haven’t read any concerns about population decline. Psst—here’s the 10 types of bird feeders you need in your backyard.

Mourning Doves Mate for Life

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!)