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mourning dove

Zenaida macroura

What do they look like?

Mourning doves are medium-sized birds in the pigeon family. Their size, weight, and specific coloration vary across their range. They have a stream-lined appearance, with a relatively small head and a long, pointed tail. They are overall grayish blue to grayish brown on their backs with black spots on their wings and behind their eyes. There are white tips on the tail. They have a small, black bill and red legs and feet. Males are larger than females and are slightly brighter in color, males have a bluish crown and a rosy breast. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    96.0 to 170.0 g
    3.38 to 5.99 oz
  • Range length
    22.5 to 36.0 cm
    8.86 to 14.17 in
  • Range wingspan
    142.0 to 150.0 mm
    5.59 to 5.91 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.736 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

Mourning doves are only native to the Nearctic region. They live from southern Canada, throughout the United States, and south to Panama. Mourning doves are found year-round throughout most of their range but northern populations migrate south during the winter. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Mourning doves are highly adaptable birds and are found in a wide variety of habitats. They are more common in open woodlands and forest edges near grasslands and fields. They are most abundant in agricultural and suburban areas where humans have created large areas of suitable habitat. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

How do they reproduce?

Mourning doves are monogamous, some pairs stay together through the winter. Males perform a number of displays, along with a courtship "coo", on a display perch. They will drive other males away from their display perch but do not otherwise establish a territory until after mating. Females land near the male on his display perch, causing the male to begin an elaborate series of courtship maneuvers. If a pair bond is formed, the male and female remain together for a few days before starting to build a nest. After finding a mate, males begin selecting a nest site. Nest construction takes over ten hours and covers a span of three to four days. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

Female mourning doves generally lay two small, white eggs in an open nest. The young leave the nest about 15 days after hatching but remain nearby until they are more accomplished at flying, usually at about 30 days old. Young are able to breed by 85 days old. Mourning doves have the longest breeding season of all North American birds. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Mourning doves may breed several times in a breeding season, depending on food availability.
  • Breeding season
    February through October
  • Average eggs per season
    2.0
  • Average eggs per season
    2
    AnAge
  • Range time to hatching
    15.0 (high) days
  • Average time to hatching
    14.0 days
  • Average fledging age
    15.0 days
  • Average time to independence
    30 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    85.0 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    85.0 days

Both male and female mourning doves share in incubating and feeding their young. Incubation lasts 14 to 15 days. Young mourning doves are fed regurgitated food by both parents. For the first 3 to 4 days after hatching the young are fed only crop milk, an energy rich substance that is produced in the crops of both male and female parents. After that time, parents begin to add more seeds to the regurgitated food until they are fed only regurgitated seeds by the time the young leave the nest. Female mourning doves feed the young most during the first 15 days after hatching but after that males take over the responsibility for feeding the young. The young continue to stay near the nest and beg for food after they have fledged, but can survive on their own after 21 days old if there is food nearby. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

How long do they live?

Adult mourning doves usually live to about 1.5 years old in the wild, but one wild mourning dove lived to 19.3 years old. Some areas of the United States allow hunting of mourning doves, in these areas average lifespan is lower than in areas where hunting is not allowed. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    19.3 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1.5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    376 months
    Bird Banding Laboratory

How do they behave?

Two much-studied behaviors of mourning doves are their monogamous mating and their migration patterns. Mourning doves migrate south from their breeding grounds each fall to a more hospitable climate for the winter months. During migration these birds may fly over 1000 miles to reach their winter resting spot. Mourning doves are swift and direct in flight. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

How do they communicate with each other?

Mourning doves use a variety of body displays to scare away intruders, threaten invading males, and attract potential mates. Mourning doves also use a suite of songs and calls to communicate with other mourning doves. The male's song to attract a mate is often heard throughout the warm months of the year. It is a simple call, sounding like: 'coo oo, OO, OO, OO. Mourning doves also make some non-vocal sounds in flight, they make a whistling noise while flying and sometimes make sharp flapping noises with their wings. The purpose of these sounds is unknown.

When young mourning doves tap on their parent's bills it stimulates regurgitation of crop milk. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

What do they eat?

Mourning doves eat a wide variety of seeds, waste grain, fruit, and insects. They prefer seeds that rest on the gound. Occasionally they eat in trees and bushes when ground foods are scarce. Their diet is typically 95% seeds or plant parts. Mourning doves eat agricultural crops, especially cereal grains such as corn, millet, rye, barley, and oats. On rare occasions mourning doves can be seen preying on grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and snails. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Mourning doves are swift and maneuverable in flight, so can escape most predators if they are aware of their presence. The exception to this are falcons, such as peregrine falcons and prairie falcons. Adult mourning doves will try to lure predators away from their nests by pretending to be injured. This is called the "broken-wing feign." They flutter about on the ground in front of the predator, as if they had a broken wing, and lure them away from the area of their nest. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Mourning doves consume large quantities of grains, seeds, and fruits. This has a significant impact on the plant communities in which they live. They may act as seed dispersers for certain fruiting plants that they feed upon. (Basket, et al., 1993; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Do they cause problems?

Because they eat cereal grains, mourning doves can occasionally become pests of crops. (Basket, et al., 1993; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

Mourning doves are the leading game birds in North America, providing more than 1.9 million recreational hunting trips each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • food

Are they endangered?

Mourning doves are widespread and abundant, they are not threatened currently. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

Contributors

Ann Emiley (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.

References

Basket, , Sayre, Tomlins, Sayre. 1993. Ecology and management of the Mourning Dove. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books.

Mirarchi, R., T. Baskett. 1994. Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura. The Birds of North America, 117: 1-20.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, F. 2007. "Zenaida macroura" (On-line). Fire Effects Information System. Accessed April 09, 2007 at http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/zema/all.html.

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Emiley, A. and T. Dewey . "Zenaida macroura" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 22, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Zenaida_macroura/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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