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The Little Mourning Dove, A Common Sight in the U.S.
What? This is a Game Bird?
A familiar sight across the continental United States, Mexico, a small part of Alaska, and southern Canada, this little dove can be distinguished from similar species by its long, pointed tail bordered by large white tips, except the four innermost. The young ones appear more scaly and have more spots on the wings. You won’t have to go far to see them in your neighborhood. They are practically everywhere that you look. Although they are a hardy bird, extremely cold weather may force them out of our northernmost states. Yes, indeed, this is a game bird. Over 70 million of them are shot and put on the table every year. But this has not hurt their population any, for there are still more than 400 million of them!
Both sexes coo, but while the male is loud and constant, the female’s call is sporadic and nearly inaudible. The male doesn’t coo during winter, but as the days get longer, and springtime awakens the urges within him, he fills the air with his sounds of love. The call has such a plaintiveness about it, that’s how the bird got its name. They are also known as turtle doves. The cooing is most apparent at dawn and the evening, diminishing in the middle of the day.
Breeding and Nesting
The male is monogamous and generally mates for life. They are quite affectionate, billing and cooing through the year, but especially during mating season. Males are also very aggressive. The fights between males over females or territory division are frequent and can be bloody. Large territories tend to be whittled down as more males migrate to the general area, and the original landlord is unable to send them all elsewhere.
The courtship display is interesting and unique. He looks like a little turkey, strutting about with his neck feathers puffed up. His wingtips touch the ground and his tail is fanned out. Then he’ll clap his wings over his back, springing into the air and rising to nearly 100 feet, spiraling back down again on set wings to his love. He will continue to strut and fly until the deed is done.
The nest is done without rhyme or reason. The male gathers sticks in the early morning, presenting them to the female. She constructs a flat platform on the top of a branch near the main trunk or a widely spaced fork in the tree. Sometimes, they will take over a songbird nest, and use it as the base for their own. Evergreen trees are preferred, although bushes and other trees can be used. Most of the nest is made with coarse, heavy twigs. Inside will be finer twigs and small roots. The nests are so poorly constructed, storms will take them down. Then the doves immediately build another and go about their business. These doves have a couple of broods a year in the north, and as many as five in their southern range. They usually build another nest for the second batch of chicks.
Eggs and Young
The average clutch is two pure white eggs. Most doves begin nesting in April, but with this having been an exceptional spring(2012), they were a good two weeks early. Records prove, the milder the winter, the earlier the doves nest.
Both sexes share incubation, roughly a two week period. The male usually broods from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., when he is relieved by his better half. They both tend to leave the nest together at early morning changeover to feed. The eggs are most subject to predation then.
Just prior to hatching, both birds begin to produce pigeon’s milk in their crops, which is triggered by the natural development of prolactin.
The squabs are completely helpless at hatching time. The thick, cheesy milk is pumped by the parent directly into the little ones’ throats, by inserting its little beak into the corner of the parent’s beak. Each feeding of a baby takes about 15 seconds to a minute. As the squabs grow, seeds and insects are fed to them mixed with their milk. After eight to ten days, the milk supply has nearly ceased, then the young are given a straight seed diet.
The young are covered with light yellow-white down at hatching time, but the blue skin is very plain. The primary feathers begin to appear after three days, and the eyes begin to open. After six days, the eyes are fully open, and the young are moving about in their nest. At nine days, the little ones are feathered out enough to fly if something bothers them. At twelve to fourteen days, they will fly from the nest, but stay in the area to be fed by the parents.
As soon as this brood is on their own, the parents get ready for the next brood.
The dove doesn’t have to fill its beak with water and tilt its head to drink. It submerges the beak to the nares(nostrils) in water and uses suction power.
Like most birds, the dove will both dust and water bathe. The dust bathing activity clogs the pores of parasites, causing some of them to drop off. Water bathing is just as much for cleanliness as it is for its cooling properties.
In the fall, these birds will frequent feeding stations in both rural and urban areas. They tend to favor wooded fringes of open areas.
They eat mostly vegetable matter and will partake shelled snails for their calcium value. In the fall, these birds will frequent feeding stations in both rural and urban areas. They tend to favor wooded fringes of open areas.
Disease and Enemies
Trichomoniasis affects these doves by causing yellow cankers in the mouth and throat. They will cause death by starvation, due to the fact that they become so large.
Crows, jays, squirrels, snakes, opossums and raccoons are some predators that regularly egg eggs and young. House cats are a problem at feeders.
A Piece of Trivia
A Mourning Dove's feathers are so loosely attached to its body and will serve as a means of escape by pulling free when a predator has captured them.