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The Mourning Dove-How to Identify Them Through Sight and Sound

Updated on May 11, 2015

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

Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove | Source

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.   

Additional Facts

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:

The Sound of the Mourning Dove


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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Stephanie...Oh, I don't think I realized (?) you do watercolor painting. It is something I have been wanting to get into myself. How wonderful for you. I was moved by the hub about watercolor journaling that Gail, Happyboomernurse, recently posted. Thanks for your comments here and the vote/pin. One of these days, and I think of it often, we WILL visit and have coffee. :)

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 5 years ago from USA

      Beautiful and informative article on Mourning Doves, Denise. I recently painted one in watercolor, and this gives me a nice insight into its life. Voted up and pinned!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Genna-I hope you are able to experience the Mourning Dove around your home. They are soothing.

      Hi Sofs-what a nice surprise. I don't blame you re: apartment birds. I do not care for pigeons b/c of their pesky behavior. They really do not do anything 'different'. And, they hang around, esp if someone feeds them, which increases the problem. Thanks for commenting.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 7 years ago

      We have their cousins the pigeons all over our apartment block and their cooing and pooing have put me off these birds. But the mourning doves seem to whistle... soothing to hear. Great Hub Denise!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I have always been fascinated with mourning doves…they is something soulful and sad about their songs, and yet peaceful at the same time. Wonderful hub!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      kafsoa-thanks for the support and the read. :)

      AliciaC-thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed listening to the 'coos'.

      Thanks Cara. They are soothing aren't they. :)

      Hi Kathi-I did not know that either until I researched this piece. I am glad they banned it too, although from my reading the female gov (can't recall her name) signed a bill to lift the ban. Then, it got passed once more as a proposal. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Fossillady profile image

      Kathi 7 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Great information, never knew the morning dove was hunted for their meat...yuk! It's good to know Michigan put a ban on that. When I hear them in the morning I feel like the world is going to be alright! I think Peace Dove is a fitting name!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 7 years ago from Michigan

      Great job capturing the beauty and peacefulness of the mourning dove.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for a beautiful hub. I enjoyed learning about mourning doves and hearing their sound. They are lovely birds.

    • kafsoa profile image

      kafsoa 7 years ago

      Useful Information. Good luck challenge;)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks. It does evoke memories for me as well. Thank you for commenting.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 7 years ago

      When we were getting married and living in a condo, we had these beautiful, peaceful, birds nesting and cooing in the eaves of our front porch. I believe it became a family. We thought they were good luck. However the Association did not, and they were sent packing! Wonderful Hub Denise, brought back memories.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Manny-thanks for visiting the hub and commenting. I love listening to the coos. They are so soothing.

    • mannyrolando profile image

      mannyrolando 7 years ago

      Great hub about this peaceful bird. We enjoy their visits and lovely cooing in our back yard...

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      Jlbowden-nice to meet you. Thanks for your feedback. I just finished reading several of your hubs about birds and will add a link to this article about the Nat'l Wildlife Fed. Great hub.

      Hi Ann-thanks for reading and commenting. 4 down-26 more to go, LOL HELP!

      Hi sister. Don't you remember hearing them when we lived on Radner? That and the train sound at night, LOL Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 7 years ago from Illinois

      They do have a nice cooing sound, pleasant to hear early in the morning.

    • annmackiemiller profile image

      annmackiemiller 7 years ago from Bingley Yorkshire England

      they really are beautiful birds - great job Denise

    • Jlbowden profile image

      James Bowden 7 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Hello Denise:

      First of all I want to say, beautifully written article about the mourning dove. It is certainly a bird of tranquility. Being an avid birder, I do have a few come to my back yard to feed with the other birds. It seems as though they put the other birds around them at ease. And your right...their soft, pleasing cooing sound is a welcomed sound to any ears. Your appreciation for nature and high level of enthusiasm for our feathered friends shows in your writing. Thanks again for sharing with all of us other birder/hubbers!


    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 7 years ago from North Carolina

      It is, Marie. It is a blessing and I do appreciate it. I loved your piece about compassion. What a gift you have of light and love. Sometimes, hearing ears miss an awful lot! You get the picture in so many other ways, my friend.

      Good to see you. Thanks for your comments.

    • VioletSun profile image

      VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

      I admit I didn't know much about the mourning dove, so its new information for me. Must be beautiful to be able to hear this gift of nature cooing. :)