As I write this I can hear a mourning dove cooing outside. It is a peaceful and yet sad sound. Their name comes from this mournful cooing.
The mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, the genus Zenaida commemorates Zenaide Laetitia Julie Bonaparte, the wife of French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte and niece of Napolean Bonaparte. The species, macroura, means “long-tailed”. This is a delicate, slender bird that is fawn colored with a gray patch on its head. The males and females are similar, but the males have more iridescent purple-pink patche on the sides of the neck. A black spot below the eye and black spots on the wings and tail. The long pointed tail is edged with white. They have a pale blue-gray eye ring. Their legs and feet are reddish. They can be seen perching on wires with the aid of their perching feet, with three toes forward and one reversed.
Mourning doves, not morning doves, are the most common wild dove in North America. They are smaller and slimmer than their relative the pigeon or rock dove. The Eurasian collared dove and white-winged doves, although expanding their range, are not found in the northeast and both have blunt, not pointed, tails.
Mourning doves are monogamous, they mate for life. Mated pairs will preen each other’s feathers and males will defend their territory. The male locates the nest area and will gather the nest material and give it to the female while standing on her back. The nests are flimsy (No wonder…if you had someone standing on your back, I bet you would want to get it done quickly too!) and made of pine needles, twigs and grass. They nest, mainly in trees, but sometimes on the ground, from mid-April to the end of August with normally two broods of two eggs. In warmer climates they have up to six broods per year. Both the male and female incubates the eggs for two weeks. The young, known as squabs, are helpless and cannot hold their heads up and so the parents feed them regurgitated liquid called “crop milk” for the first few days of life. After two weeks they fledge the nest, but stay around to be fed by the parents for another couple of weeks. Mourning doves normally live up to about five years, but the oldest known mourning dove was a male at least 30 years, 4 months.
Ninety-nine percent of their diet is made up of seed. During nesting season they sometimes eat snails. They feed on the ground and can store a large amount of seed in their crop, an enlargement of the esophagus. While resting they will digest the seed. According to All About Birds the record is 17,200 bluegrass seeds in a single crop! If food is available some mourning doves will remain year-round in breeding areas, but most migrate south in flocks from northern areas.
Mourning doves are the most frequently hunted species in North America, since they feed on the ground they are apt to eat lead shot leading to lead poisoning and are especially vulnerable to cat predation and often victims to window collisions. Even though hunters harvest more than 20 million birds annually, the U.S. population remains at about 350 million, but populations have declined by about 15% since 1966.
Doves are a symbol of hope and peace. The famous Spanish artist Pablo Picasso was commissioned to design a logo for the First International Peace Congress in 1949 and he drew a dove, entitled “Dove of Peace “. Doves are seen as a symbol of “solidarity and concord” among nations. Picasso also named his fourth child “Paloma”, the Spanish word for dove. The states of Michigan and Wisconsin have the mourning dove as their official symbol of peace.
Whenever you see or hear a mourning dove may you have hope and envision a world filled with peace!
All About Birds – Mourning Dove