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Mourning Dove

(Zenaida macroura)
Banded March, 1999 - Carmel, Indiana

General Information

The Mourning Dove, endemic to North and Central America and the Caribbean,
frequents villages and towns, and readily comes to feeders for seed. The genus name, Zenaida, was given to this group of doves in 1838 by the French zoologist Charles L. Bonaparte in honor of his wife, Princess Zénaide Charlotte Julie Bonaparte. 

It is considered a game bird in many states, and has the widest distribution of any North American game bird. Its flight speed has been clocked at 40-55 mph, but a strong tailwind will result in higher ground speeds, making it a difficult bird for a hunter to hit. 

 

The Mourning Dove is from 11 to 13 inches long, with a wingspan of 17 to 19 inches. Weights range from 4.5 to 6 ounces. The small black spot on the face distinguished it from the now extinct Passenger Pigeon.

Mourning Dove
Figure 1 - Mourning Dove

 

Mourning Dove Face
Figure 2 - Mourning Dove Face

 

Male Mourning Doves establish a territory in early spring. Their territorial cooing song, sounding like oo-ah? cooo-cooo-coo, with the accent on the first syllable, is heard from dawn to dusk. The male performs an aerial flight display from a high perch by circling out and back while holding his wings out straight and a bit lower than his body. Banding studies suggest that these doves mate for life.

The sex of a Mourning Dove can be determined with lots of experience. Males have a bluish crown and nape, and a rose wash to the throat and breast. The crown and nape of the female is grayish brown, and the throat and breast has a brownish or tan wash. 

Mourning Dove Crown
Figure 3 - Mourning Dove Crown

 

Mourning Dove Foot
Figure 4 - Mourning Dove Foot

 

Mourning Doves have strong legs and feet. Powerful leg muscles enable them to launch rapidly. Generally, tough tendons and a limited supply of blood and nerves in the legs and feet of birds make them somewhat resistant to freezing. Mourning Doves, however, can lose several toes from freezing, making it harder for them to scratch on the ground while feeding.

The Mourning Dove wing is long and pointed, and almost falcon-like in appearance. This design enables it to efficiently maintain high flight speeds of up to 55 mph.

Upper Wing
Figure 5 - Upper Wing

 

Upper Tail
Figure 6 - Upper Tail

 

Mourning Doves have a long pointed tail, giving them a distinctive streamlined silhouette. The tail has long central tail feathers, but the outer tail feathers are tipped with white.

The Mourning Dove on the nest.

Mourning Dove on nest
Figure 7 - Mourning Dove on nest with two chicks

 

Nesting Behavior

Mourning Doves raise three or more broods in a single breeding season. Both parents build a flimsy platform nest of twigs located from 5 to 25 feet up in a tree or bush. Two white eggs hatch in about 14 - 16 days. One egg is laid in the evening, and the second on the next morning. The male usually incubates the egg during the day, and the female incubates at night. Nestlings, cared for by both parents, fledge in about 12-14 days. The parents continue to care for the fledglings until they are 25 to 27 days old.

Banding Recoveries

According to the Bird Banding Lab web site, 1,952,289 Mourning Doves were banded between 1914 and 1998. Of these, 89,645 have been recovered outside the area where they were banded, representing a recovery rate of 4.59%. Banding studies reveal that Mourning Doves can live up to 10 years in the wild, and more than 17 years in captivity. Northern populations are migratory, and the mortality rate of juveniles can be as high as 70% in their first year of life. Many doves fall prey to hunting and predation by hawks, especially the Cooper's Hawk that stakes out back yard feeders in the winter months.

Economic Benefit and Conservation 

Despite hunting and the high mortality rate, Mourning Dove populations seem to be increasing in most regions. Winters can be hard on them as they seem to have difficulty scratching through snow and ice to get to food. They are mostly seed eaters that feed on the ground. Individual birds can hold up to 7,500 seeds of sorrel or 6,400 seeds of foxtail grass. No doubt their diet of weed seeds provides an economic benefit by controlling weed populations.

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