Mourning Dove

American mourning dove, Carolina dove, Carolina pigeon, Carolina turtle dove, Carolina turtledove, Carolina turtle-dove, rain dove, Western turtle dove

Zenaida macroura
Population size
350-475 Mln
Life Span
1.5-19 yrs
88 km/h
96-170 g
22.5-36 cm
14.2-15 cm

Mourning doves live in the American southwest, as do several other species in the Columbidae or pigeon family. The genus name is in honor of Princess Zénaïde Charlotte Julie Bonaparte, who was the zoologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte’s wife and first cousin. Macroura means, “long-tailed”, referring, of course, to the bird’s long tail. Its plaintive ooAAH-cooo-coo-coo does sound like a bird in despair. Early naturalists believed this when they heard the “mournful” song. This anthropomorphic view is wrong. These birds are not mourning for lost ones, instead, their beautiful songs are meant for breeding purposes and territorial displays.


Mourning doves are native to only the Nearctic region. They occur in southern Canada, the United States, and Panama and are found year-round in most of their range, though northern populations migrate south for winter. These birds frequent farms, small towns, parks, open woodlands, scrub, roadsides, grasslands, and large gardens.

Mourning Dove habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Mourning doves eat in the open on the ground, pecking or pushing aside ground litter, but they do not scratch at the ground. Usually these diurnal birds forage in small groups or pairs and feed quickly, filling their crop with seeds to digest later on a safe perch. Outside of the breeding season, these birds roost and live in flocks. They have a widespread pattern of migration, which begins in their breeding grounds, and extends to the southern areas where they go to escape the months of harsh winter. They can fly thousands of miles through a hostile environment to get to their winter resting spot. This species uses a range of body displays in order to scare off intruders, threaten any invading males, and to attract potential mates. They can also use a suite of calls and songs to communicate with others of their species. The male's call for attracting a female is a simple 'coo oo, OO, OO, OO'. Young mourning doves tap their parent's bills to stimulate regurgitation of crop milk.

Diet and Nutrition

Mourning doves are herbivores (granivores), they eat a range of seeds, fruit, waste grain, and insects, preferring seeds that are on the ground. Sometimes they eat in bushes and trees when food on the ground is scarce. Occasionally they will eat grasshoppers, beetles, ants and snails.

Mating Habits

14-15 days
30 days
squab, chick
2 eggs

These birds are serially monogamous, and some pairs will stay together throughout the winter. Breeding is from February through October. The male performs a number of displays on a display perch, accompanied by a courtship "coo". He will drive other males from his display perch but does not otherwise establish his territory until after mating. A female will land near a male on the display perch, causing him to begin his elaborate series of courtship moves. If a pair bond forms, the male and female stay together for several days before beginning to build a nest: a poorly built platform amongst shrubs, trees, or vines. The male brings nesting material to the female, who builds the nest. She will lay 2 small white eggs. Incubation is for 14 to 15 days, shared by both birds. Both parents feed their young and regurgitate crop milk (or pigeon milk) for them. After five days they add seeds to their diet. Young leave the nest when they are about 15 days old but they remain nearby until their flying is more accomplished, usually at around 30 days old. By 85 days old young are able to breed.


Population threats

The main threat to this species is intense hunting, as they are North America’s most popular game bird, with over 20 million killed by hunters every year. A less obvious effect of hunting results from lead poisoning, as these birds often pick up fallen lead shot while foraging on the ground.

Population number

According to the Wikipedia resource, the total population size of the Mourning dove is around 475 million individuals. According to the All About Birds resource, the total U.S. population of the species is estimated at 350 million individuals. Overall, currently Mourning doves are classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today are increasing.

Ecological niche

Due to their diet, these doves may act as dispersers of seed for some of the fruiting plants they eat.

Cool Facts

  • Although Mourning doves can survive in the desert, they need to drink regularly and will fly a long way at dawn and dusk to favorite water holes.
  • The Mourning dove has a special place in folklore and mythology. Noah released such a dove from the ark and when it returned carrying an olive branch, that was a sign that land was near.
  • When feeding, Mourning doves store seeds on their crops to digest them later. The most recorded in one crop is 17,200 bluegrass seeds.
  • When these doves sleep, they rest their head between their shoulders, down close to their body, rather than tucking their head under the feathers of their shoulder, like many other birds do.
  • These birds are considered close relatives of the extinct Passenger pigeon.


1. Mourning Dove Wikipedia article -
2. Mourning Dove on The IUCN Red List site -

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