Mourning Dove

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Throughout much of the country, the mourning dove is a classic electric-line sitter alongside rural roads. These fast flyers are, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the most frequently hunted species in North America.
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Two mourning doves looking for food on the ground.
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A mourning dove mother and her fledgling.
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Mourning dove are a beautfiul bird species.

Growing up in southeast Kansas, it was not uncommon to encounter the fast-flying, elusive dove. Nowadays, I often sit outside drinking my coffee in the morning and listen to the soft cooing sound that the mourning dove makes. Therapeutic in a way, though not surprising, since the dove symbolizes peace dating back to Biblical times.

In North America alone, there are over 15 types of doves. The mourning dove covers the largest range and is found in almost all regions of the continent. The other well-know dove is the Eurasian collared dove, which was introduced into North America but has become more and more widespread. The mourning dove is the far more common species in our part of the world.

Defining traits

The mourning dove is a medium-size bird with a delicate black bill, long pointed white-tipped tail, and rather soft, grayish-brown and buff coloration. There are black spots on the wings and near the ears. The tail and wing feathers are gray, except for the black-bordered white tips on the tail. The eyes of the mourning dove are brown, bordered by light blue bare skin, and the legs and feet are a dull red. The males are typically bigger than the females, and, as in most wild animals, have more color. The males have a pinkish wash on the breast and brighter blue-gray coloration on the top of the head and hind neck.

Mourning doves are a migratory bird just like ducks and geese, which means they live their life by the weather. When the weather gets cold, they migrate south for about six months. After that time has expired, they head back north thousands of miles to their breeding ground.

As bird hunters can attest, doves are extremely fast flyers, humming along in the air at speeds as high as 55 miles per hour.

Mourning doves are monogamous and form a very strong bond that will last at least for the duration of nesting season, some may even remain together throughout the winter.

Natural instincts

During the breeding season, the male spends much of his time “perch cooing.” The reason for this vocalization is to obtain a mate. A female will respond to the courting male in at least three different ways: (1) she may fly away, in which case a pursuit occurs; (2) she may ignore the male and continue feeding or preening; or (3) she may permit copulation and formation of the pair bond.

After establishing a pair bond, the male and female loaf together for a few days before they begin to build their nest. After a couple of days of being lazy and getting to know each other, the male takes the initiative in choosing a nest site. Once he has chosen a suitable spot, the pair works together in building their home. The male proceeds to gather small twigs and delivers them individually to the female, who in turn arranges them into a nest. This whole process from start to finish will take them seven to 10 hours, spread out over two to four days.

Once the female has the nest made to her liking, she will lay a clutch of two to three eggs. Unlike many other bird species, both the male and female share in incubation and brooding. After 14 to 15 days of incubation, the chicks begin their journey on earth. The young doves will remain dependent on parental care for approximately 18 days, at which time they will be able to fend for themselves.

The mourning dove is primarily a ground feeder, although they occasionally feed on seeds and berries in trees. As we know in the Midwest, when a crop such as corn or milo has been harvested, you will often find a powerline full of doves — they are drawn to cut crop fields because of the abundance and easy access to seed. Yet their absolute favorite is sunflower seeds.

Like chickens, the mourning dove stores seeds in what is called a crop, which is a pouch in their throat where they keep food for preliminary maceration. Much of a mourning dove’s day is allotted to finding and procuring food. They also spend part of their day drinking. Water, as to most of us, is vital to survival. And like most birds, they are not picky about where to find it. They typically find water that is close to their food source in order to conserve energy. This water source could simply amount to a small puddle of water. Doves sip water through their beaks, using it like a straw, whereas some other birds take a mouthful then tip their heads back to allow gravity to pull the water down into their stomachs.

Like many other bird species, doves love to bathe, and they bathe in three different ways. The first is water-bathing, which anyone with a birdbath has seen. Many bird species are seen taking a quick bath in even a puddle of water. The second type of bathing they do is sunbathing. Much like people, mourning doves love to soak up the rays of the sun. When they do this, they spread their wing and tail on each side of their body, trying to absorb as much sun and heat as possible. The third type of bathing is called dust-bathing. Like chickens, they do this by scratching the soil to loosen the dirt and then shake or ruffle their feathers to cover themselves in fine dirt. This practice is used to help control different types of parasites.

The life of a dove is similar to that of many other birds. They spend it trying to survive, whether that means finding food, water, or even finding a mate. For a bird that typically only lives for one and a half years, they spend it working hard. The next time you hear that mourning dove singing in the early mornings or late evenings, think to yourself how this small, delicate, beautiful bird lives their short life on this place we call Earth, and travels thousands of miles in so doing.

Check out Todd’s beginner’s guides to both wild turkey and whitetail deer hunting

Todd Foxx grew up in southeast Kansas, hunting ducks, geese, turkeys, deer, and more. He took the Kansas hunter’s education course when he was 9, and has been an avid outdoorsman ever since.

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