Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves Hanging Out in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Mourning Doves Hanging Out in Metasequoia (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

The Mourning Dove, (Zenaida macroura), is one of my favorite visitors to the garden.  The genus name Zenaida comes from Princess Zénaide Charlotte Julie Bonaparte, the wife of French zoologist Charles Bonaparte (isn’t that romantic), and mourning was derived from what some consider its sorrowful song.  Mourning Doves don’t migrate, so I’m fortunate to enjoy their company throughout the year.  It’s not uncommon to have dozens of doves at my feeder, with many perched close by in the surrounding trees as well.  Sometimes mistaken for the similar looking Turtle Dove (the difference is a partial black ring at the nape), this cocoa brownish-grey bird radiates a calming, peaceful aura wherever it lands.  And, its voice is a soothing, (not sad to me) gently repetitive cooing sound, in some ways similar to an owl’s “who, who, who”, but with different pitches of tone.  Mourning Doves also make a curious whistling sound during flight, which you’ve probably heard before, but didn’t realize the source.

Friends Weathering the Storm in A Garden For All By Kathy Diemer

Friends Weathering the Storm (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Mourning Doves are a middle sized bird, about 12″ in length, with an 18″ wingspan that allows them to travel at speeds well over 40 mph. As they fly overhead, you can recognize them by the long pointed tail marked on the underside with a black V. It’s hard to distinguish between the males and females; but closer inspection reveals that the male has a bluer cast to his head, while the female remains brownish-tan.  Mourning Doves are said to be monogamous and can have several ‘broods’ (up to 6) annually, with each ‘clutch’ of two white eggs incubated, hatched and out on their own in about 30 days.  This speedy life process may explain why Mourning Doves are the most abundant game bird in North America, with an estimated population of 350 million and potential life span of over a decade.  (The oldest known Mourning Dove was 31 years old).

Mourning Doves at the Feeder in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Mourning Doves at the Feeder (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

I was surprised to read that approximately 20 million Mourning Doves are consumed by hunters each year.  The only thing I have ever shot them with is my camera!  However, if you would like to view Mourning Doves in your back yard, simply put out some seed.  Not a picky bird, they prefer to eat from the ground or low feeders, and relish combinations of cracked corn, cultivated grains, millet, ground nuts and berries-all relatively inexpensive ingredients.  Mourning Doves will consume hundreds of seeds at a time, storing them in their crop (esophagus) and perching closeby to comfortably digest the meal.  If you decide to invite birds to your yard by feeding, please remember to be consistent, as they will quickly come to depend on you as a food source, especially during the winter months.

To read more about Mourning Doves and to hear their unique sounds, visit The Cornell Lab of Orintholgy:


  1. WOW! I feed the birds on the ground here daily, but I Never see that many @ a time! Who could eat them?

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