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The Mourning Dove-How to Identify Them Through Sight and Sound
The Sounds of the Mourning Dove
Slowly waking this morning to the cooing outside my window, I recognized the sounds of the Mourning Dove. A rush of memories filled my head as I listened to the dove’s lament-a sound I find more soothing, than sorrowful. Growing up in my home state of Michigan, Mourning Doves were commonly heard as winter waned.
Their distinctive song is an easy identifier for this pigeon-like bird; a series of coos-one soft, the second accented, and then two to three short ones following. It is a sound that signals spring and summer’s warm weather, and breeding season. Cooing is the sound often made by unmated males; a sound that warns others that a territory has been marked. A male will vehemently defend its perch from other males once it has selected a place.
Mating of the Mourning Doves
Similar in color and markings, male and female doves are monogamous after mating, and share the duties of parenthood. The female, though slightly smaller than her male partner, sets up household in a low bush or bough creating a loosely built nest of twigs and pine needles, and will often reuse the same nest, or borrow another’s.
Females will usually lay two, sometimes three, white eggs. The incubation period is two weeks and both males and females will rotate sitting on the nest. Interestingly, it is the male who will take the day sitting, while the female takes over as night falls.
Once hatched the nestlings stay for another two weeks while their feather wings and muscles strengthen. During this early period they are fed ‘milk’ from the mother Dove. Not actual milk, this milky substance is produced in the glands of the crop-an area in the esophagus that is used to store food for later digestion. When the young ones eat they will stick their heads into the mouth of the mother and suck the ‘pigeon milk’.
Photo of a Mourning Dove
Distinctive Markings of the Mourning Dove
Smaller in size than a Rock Pigeon, a Mourning Dove is about 12 inches. Its tail is slender and comes to a point beyond the wings when at rest. The overall coloring is gray brown, but there are distinct markings that set it apart from other similar birds. Its crown will hold a bluish gray patch and, in the males, a bright purple-pink patch can be found on its neck and sides.
This short legged bird has black spots on its wings and cheek, a blue circle around the eyes, a white tipped tail, and reddish colored legs. The claws are built for perching-three toes forward, one, (reversed), behind. The beak is short and black with a slight downward curve.
The Mourning Dove's Habitat
Migratory, the Mourning Doves are found throughout the United States; in southern Canada during the summer months; and in parts of Mexico, Panama, and the Caribbean in the winter months. They are a common bird for the Continental U.S.A. and on rare sightings have been spotted in Alaska.
These birds can be found in open areas, such as fields, farmlands, and lightly wooded areas. They avoid dense woods and swamps. They are comfortable around urban and suburban areas and are an easy bird to attract to the backyard.
Ground foragers, they will eat seeds, grains and even insects. They are known to eat up to 20% of their own body weight. Once they gather the seeds into their crop they will fly to a safe perch to digest their meal. An average lifespan for the Mourning Dove is between four and five years.
How to Attract Mourning Doves
Mourning Doves are actually the most frequently sought after game bird in North America. Apparently, the plump little fliers with the slender tails are enjoyed both for its meat and for the sport of hunting them. In fact, of the 350 million Mourning Doves in the United States approximately 20 million are hunted each year. Fortunately, they propagate quickly.
If you are interested in attracting these birds to your backyard use a platform type of open perch that can attach to an area such as the side of a barn or garage and secure it between seven and ten feet in height. Fill the area with millet or cracked corn. Keep a source of water available for access as well. You will be pleased with the results because the song of the Mourning Dove will fill the air with the soothing sounds of cooing.
Their wings make a sharp ‘whistling’ sound on take-off and landing.
Seeds make up 99% of the Mourning Dove’s diet and the largest number ever found in the crop was 17,200.
The oldest recorded lifespan of a Mourning Dove is 31 years and 4 months.
It has also been known to be called the Rain Dove, The Western Turtledove and the American Mourning Dove.
It was formerly known as the Carolina Turtledove or the Carolina Pigeon.
There are five subspecies of Mourning Doves.
The Mourning Dove is Michigan’s ‘Bird of Peace’ and a coalition to protect this bird, which included banning the hunting of the Mourning Dove, was created. To learn more, or to support this group you can follow the website: www.savethedoves.org
The Sound of the Mourning Dove
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