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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura ORDER: COLUMBIFORMES FAMILY: COLUMBIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Mourning Dove Photo

A graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed dove that’s common across the continent. Mourning Doves perch on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground; their flight is fast and bullet straight. Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like laments. When taking off, their wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying. Mourning Doves are the most frequently hunted species in North America.

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Yard Map Birds Eye View

Keys to identification Help

Doves
Doves
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Plump-bodied and long-tailed, with short legs, small bill, and a head that looks particularly small in comparison to the body. The long, pointed tail is unique among North American doves.

  • Color Pattern

    Mourning Doves often match their open-country surroundings. They’re delicate brown to buffy-tan overall, with black spots on the wings and black-bordered white tips to the tail feathers.

  • Behavior

    Mourning Doves fly fast on powerful wingbeats, sometimes making sudden ascents, descents, and dodges, their pointed tails stretching behind them.

  • Habitat

    You can see Mourning Doves nearly anywhere except the deep woods. Look for them in fields or patches of bare ground, or on overhead perches like telephone wires.

Range Map Help

Mourning Dove Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Long, streamline shape distinctive
    • Graduated tail forms pointed shape
    • Small head, thick chest, small bill
    • © ashockenberry, Ontario, Canada, September 2008
  • Adult with nestlings

    Mourning Dove

    Adult with nestlings
    • Loose nest built in vegetation, tree limbs, or building ledges
    • © Curtis Ellis, June 2008
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Grayish olive above with black spots on wings
    • Black cheek spot
    • Reddish legs and feet
    • © Ken Schneider, December 2008
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Tail gray/ brown and black; white tips on outer tail feathers
    • © Matt MacGillivray, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, May 2008
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Blue ring around dark eye
    • Short, thin, black bill
    • © Maggie Lee, Louisville, Kentucky, December 2008
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Bill often appears downcurved off the blocky head
    • © claire06010, Bristol, Connecticut, November 2008
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Long tail extends far beyond the folded wings at rest
    • © Iris Sutcliffe, Greensboro, North Carolina, February 2007
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Small headed, dumpy bodied, and long-tailed look distinctive
    • © Don Rash, Lexington, South Carolina, February 2007
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Pinkish buff underparts
    • © Douglas K. Davis, Mosinee, Wisconsin, February 2007
  • Adult

    Mourning Dove

    Adult
    • Dark gray primaries contrast with the rest of the brownish folded wing
    • © Kristen Hohensee, East Amherst, New York, February 2007

Similar Species

Similar Species

Mourning Doves are the common small dove across most of the continent. They're smaller, longer-tailed, and much lighter colored than Rock and Band-tailed pigeons. The Mourning Dove's long, tapering tail distinguishes it from the square-tailed White-tipped, Eurasian Collared, and White-winged doves. White-winged Dove also has bright white flashes in the wings when it flies, and Eurasian Collared-Dove has a dark ring around the back of the neck rather than the Mourning Dove's cheek smudge. Inca Dove is smaller with fine black scales on its tan plumage, and bright rufous wings in flight. Recently fledged Mourning Doves have a scaly pattern similar to Inca Dove and Common Ground-Dove. Inca Dove's scales are finer and black, and the tail is long and square-tipped. Common Ground-Doves have an orange-based bill and no scaling on the back. Both these species have bright rufous patches in the wing in flight.

Backyard Tips

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Scatter seeds, particularly millet, on the ground or on platform feeders. Plant dense shrubs or evergreen trees in your yard to provide nesting sites. Keep your cats inside - birds that spend much of their time on the ground are particularly vulnerable to prowling cats.

Find This Bird

Look for Mourning Doves on telephone wires and similar perches throughout your neighborhood, or keep an eye on patches of bare ground, where the birds gather to stock up on seeds and grit.

Get Involved

Mourning Doves add grace and movement to many urban and suburban settings. Keep track of your sightings – even in the heart of the city – as part of our Celebrate Urban Birds! program.

Download instructions for setting up a basket to attract nesting Mourning Doves (PDF)

If you know of a Mourning Dove nest, visit NestWatch to learn how to monitor it and report your observations

Top 10 Ways to Help Birds in Cities

Visit our section on how to set up a bird feeder. Then watch the birds and report your counts to Project FeederWatch.

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A bird's habitat, like the Mourning Dove's preference for open country, can help you identify it. Watch our Inside Birding video series to learn how—right from your computer.

Q & A: Why Do Doves’ Wings Make a Whirring Sound When They Fly?

Mourning Dove from Bent's Life Histories of North American Birds (1932)

Doves and pigeons poster for just $5.00, illustrated by Julie Zickefoose