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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.

Optics Planet birding kit
Be a Better Birder Tutorial 3

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Male
Length
9.1–13.4 in
23–34 cm
Wingspan
17.7 in
45 cm
Weight
3.4–6 oz
96–170 g
Female
Wingspan
17.7 in
45 cm
Weight
3–5.5 oz
86–156 g
Relative Size
Smaller, slenderer than Rock Pigeon
Other Names
  • Tourterelle triste (French)
  • Huilota (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • During the breeding season, you might see three Mourning Doves flying in tight formation, one after another. This is a form of social display. Typically the bird in the lead is the male of a mated pair. The second bird is an unmated male chasing his rival from the area where he hopes to nest. The third is the female of the mated pair, which seems to go along for the ride.
  • Mourning Doves tend to feed busily on the ground, swallowing seeds and storing them in an enlargement of the esophagus called the crop. Once they’ve filled it (the record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single crop!), they can fly to a safe perch to digest the meal.
  • Mourning Doves eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day, or 71 calories on average.
  • Perhaps one reason why Mourning Doves survive in the desert: they can drink brackish spring water (up to almost half the salinity of sea water) without becoming dehydrated the way humans would.
  • The Mourning Dove is the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. Every year hunters harvest more than 20 million, but the Mourning Dove remains one of our most abundant birds with a U.S. population estimated at 350 million.
  • The oldest known Mourning Dove was 31 years 4 months old.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Primarily a bird of open country, scattered trees, and woodland edges, but large numbers roost in woodlots during winter. Feeds on ground in grasslands, agricultural fields, backyards, and roadsides.

Food


Seeds

Seeds make up 99 percent of a Mourning Dove’s diet, including cultivated grains and even peanuts, as well as wild grasses, weeds, herbs, and occasionally berries. They sometimes eat snails. Mourning Doves eat roughly 12 to 20 percent of their body weight per day, or 71 calories on average.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2 eggs
Number of Broods
1-6 broods
Egg Length
1–1.2 in
2.6–3 cm
Egg Width
0.8–0.9 in
2.1–2.3 cm
Incubation Period
14 days
Nestling Period
12–15 days
Egg Description
Unmarked, white.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, eyes closed, sparsely covered in cream-colored down, unable to hold up head, dependent on adults for warmth.
Nest Description

A flimsy assembly of pine needles, twigs, and grass stems, unlined and with little insulation for the young. Over 2 to 4 days, the male carries twigs to the female, passing them to her while standing on her back; the female weaves them into a nest about 8 inches across. Mourning Doves sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests.

Nest Placement

Tree

Typically nests amid dense foliage on the branch of an evergreen, orchard tree, mesquite, cottonwood, or vine. Also quite commonly nests on the ground, particularly in the West. Unbothered by nesting around humans, Mourning Doves may even nest on gutters, eaves, or abandoned equipment.

Mourning Dove Nest Image 1
© René Corado / WFVZ

Mourning Dove Nest Image 2
© René Corado / WFVZ

Behavior


Ground Forager

Mourning Doves feed on the ground and in the open. They peck or push aside ground litter, but don’t scratch at the ground. Males have favorite “cooing perches” they defend from other males. Members of a pair preen each other with gentle nibbles around the neck as a pair-bonding ritual. Eventually, the pair will progress to grasping beaks and bobbing their heads up and down in unison.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Mourning Dove populations have slightly declined since 1966 according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, but they are common across the continent and generally have prospered as people settled the landscape. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 120 million with 81 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 19 percent in Mexico, and 5 percent in Canada. They rate a 5 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. They are the continent's most popular game bird: hunters shoot more than 20 million Mourning Doves each year. Because of the birds' popularity, game managers monitor their numbers to set hunting limits. Although Mourning Doves seem to do well in the face of hunting pressure, they also face the less visible problem of lead poisoning. Mourning Doves forage on the ground, and in heavily hunted areas they may wind up eating fallen lead shot (records show some doves have eaten up to 43 pellets). Studies have found this problem is worst around fields specifically planted to attract the doves, and that about 1 in 20 doves wind up eating lead.

Credits

Range Map Help

Mourning Dove Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to long-distance migrant. Northern birds fly south thousands of miles (as far as southern Mexico); individuals that breed in central and southern U.S. move a few hundred miles or not at all.

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

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