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Mourning Dove Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsPrimarily 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.Back to top

Food

Food SeedsSeeds 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.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeTypically 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.

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.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2 eggs
Number of Broods:1-6 broods
Egg Length:1.0-1.2 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.
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Behavior

Behavior Ground ForagerMourning 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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Mourning Doves are common across the continent and generally have prospered as people settled the landscape, however populations declined by an estimated 0.4% per year from 1966 to 2019 for a cumulative decline of about 20%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 150 million and rates the species 6 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Mourning Doves are the continent's most popular game bird: hunters may shoot more than 20 million each year. Because of the birds' popularity, game managers monitor their numbers to set hunting limits. Although Mourning Doves seem to tolerate hunting pressure, they also face the less visible problem of lead poisoning. Mourning Doves forage on the ground, and in heavily hunted areas they eat fallen lead shot (records show some doves have eaten up to 43 pellets). Studies have found this problem is especially bad around fields planted to attract the doves, where 1 in 20 doves wind up eating lead.

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Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Otis, David L., John H. Schulz, David Miller, R. E. Mirarchi and T. S. Baskett. (2008). Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Raftovich, R. V., S. C. Chandler and K. A. Wilkins. (2015). Migratory bird hunting activity and harvest during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 hunting seasons. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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