Mourning Dove

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 Mlnlnn
Life Span
1.5-19 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
g oz 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds. It is also one of the most popular gamebird, with more than 20 million birds (up to 70 million in some years) shot annually in the U.S., both for sport and meat. Its ability to sustain its population under such pressure is due to its prolific breeding; in warm areas, one pair may raise up to 6 broods of 2 young each in a single year. The mourning dove is the national bird of the British Virgin Islands.


The plumage of the Mourning dove is generally light gray-brown and lighter and pinkish below. The wings have black spotting, and the outer tail feathers are white, contrasting with the black inners. Below the eye is a distinctive crescent-shaped area of dark feathers. The eyes are dark, with light blue skin surrounding them. The adult male has bright purple-pink patches on the neck and sides, with light pink coloring reaching the breast. The crown of the adult male is a distinctly bluish-grey color. Females are similar in appearance, but with more brown coloring overall and are a little smaller than males. The iridescent feather patches on the neck above the shoulders are nearly absent but can be quite vivid on males. Juvenile birds have a scaly appearance and are generally darker. Mourning doves have perching feet, with three toes forward and one reversed. Their legs are short and reddish-colored. The beak is short and dark, usually a brown-black hue.




Mourning doves are native to only the Nearctic region. They occur in southern Canada, the United States, and Panama. These birds frequent farms, small towns, parks, scrub, roadsides, large gardens, prairies, grasslands, and lightly wooded areas. They avoid swamps and thick forests. Most Mourning doves migrate along flyways over land. Birds in Canada migrate the farthest, probably wintering in Mexico or further south. Those that spend the summer further south are more sedentary, with much shorter migrations. At the southern part of their range, Mourning Doves are present year-round.

Mourning Dove habitat map

Climate zones

Mourning Dove habitat map
Mourning Dove
Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Habits and Lifestyle

Mourning doves eat in the open on the ground, pecking or pushing aside ground litter, but they do not scratch 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, they 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. Migration is usually during the day, in flocks, and at low altitudes. Mourning doves use a range of body displays in order to scare off intruders, threaten any invading males, and 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 the regurgitation of crop milk. In flight, the wings of Mourning doves make a fluttery whistling sound that is hard to hear. The wing whistle is much louder and more noticeable upon take-off and landing.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Mourning doves are herbivores (granivores) and eat almost exclusively seeds, which make up more than 99% of their diet. Rarely, they will eat snails or insects. Mourning doves also often swallow grit such as fine gravel or sand to assist with digestion.

Mating Habits

14-15 days
30 days
squab, chick
2 eggs

Mourning doves are serially monogamous and form pairs during each breeding season which occurs 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, Mourning doves may act as dispersers of seeds for some of the fruiting plants they eat.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • 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, as many other birds do.
  • These birds are considered close relatives of the extinct Passenger pigeon.

Coloring Pages


1. Mourning Dove Wikipedia article -
2. Mourning Dove on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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