Habits Of The Mourning Dove

I watched as a mourning dove flew in to the bird bath and settled in to drink.

I love to watch these birds. In some ways they seem awkward, yet somehow at the same time there is something quite elegant about them.

Their pointed tails are longer than those of any other doves. These “design features” enable the birds to fly fast. Mourning doves have been clocked at 55 mph.

A mourning dove’s beauty is an understated one: the colors of its feathers ranging through various shades of gray and drab violet, often with a striking splash of turquoise around the eyes.
– Jonathan Miles

Mourning dove at the bird bath

There among the pepper plant, the tall stalks of the sedum autumn joy and the ginkgo jade tree, more commonly referred to as “Jade”, the bird seemed to have found a place to rest for a bit.

I would look out the patio doors from time to time. It stayed there at least an hour.

The dove is in fact a small pigeon. One difference, however, is that the doves have more pointed tails and move in a more graceful manner.

Recognizing The Gender Of A Mourning Dove:

Males have a bluish tint to their head and with a pinkish bosom while females have a duller pink bosom with a light brown to tan tint on their head.

So this mourning dove at the bird bath looks to be a male.

Juveniles, on the other hand, are dark brown and puffy in appearance.

Mourning dove at the bird bath

If you provide water for your backyard birds you may have noticed that your visitors collect a small amount of it in their bills and then tip their heads back to swallow. No so with the mourning dove.

How Mourning Doves Drink Water:

Mourning doves drink by dipping their bills into water and sucking up the liquid.

As a rule, doves require more water than other birds and this ability to sip allows them to swallow more water, and to watch for predators as they drink.

Mourning dove at the bird bath

Mourning Dove Diet:

Mourning doves store seeds they collect from the ground in their “crop”, which is part of their esophagus.

Once they’ve filled the crop, they’ll fly to somewhere safe before digesting the seeds.

Doves are primarily seed-eaters, not insect-eaters.

Mourning Dove Sleeping Habit:

When they sleep, their head rests between their shoulders, close to the body.

They do not tuck their heads under their shoulder feathers, like a lot of other birds do.

Mourning Dove Mating:

The cooing call is almost always uttered by the male and is a wooing call, an enticement for a potential mate.

These doves mate for the long run and become very devoted parents.

Mourning Dove Nesting:

The mourning doves build a flimsy assembly of pine needles, twigs, and grass stems. The nests are unlined with little insulation for their young.

Over 2 to 4 days, the male carries twigs to the female, passing them to her while standing on her back. Then the female weaves them into a nest about 8 inches across.

Mourning Doves sometimes reuse their own or other species’ nests.

When they lay eggs, it is almost always just two. (Singletons are rare, as are bigger clutches.) Incubation takes just two weeks.

Males and females work together to feed their new babies something called “crop milk” or “pigeon milk” for the first few days of their life. Rich in protein and fat, it resembles cottage cheese. It is secreted by the adults’ crop lining and is regurgitated to the little ones.

Weaning is fast. By the fourth day of life the diet starts to segue to seeds, and by two weeks, the youngsters are nearly fledged.

Baby mourning doves will first leave the nest at between 11 to 15 days of age, becoming independent after about 30 days.

The mourning dove can raise up to 6 broods in a breeding season.

If the doves survive the first year, which is the hardest due to predators and dove illnesses, mourning doves can live up to five years.

A few random sticks; the nest of a mourning dove. As fragile as peace. – Wayne Sapp

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17 Comments

  1. My Doves have been nesting on my patio for 2 years now. they are working on 5 set of twins. If I’m reading some of these e-mail it sounds like this could go on for years. They are in my flower box, I talk to them, they let me get with in 3 to 4 ft of them, plant flowers, water. So how can I move them, any ideas

  2. I live in Mesquite Nv, and enjoy the day watching the mourning doves 8n my back yard. We have lived here for 14 years and this year I watched the mother and father deal with 3 . The babies would show up around 5:00 AM. Daily in my back yard. All day they would sit under some bushes that are in the yard while mom or dad stood guard from above. They would leave at dusk. Most of the time they would be pecking at the ground. Very disciplend they would stay in about a 5 foot area, if they tried to leave mom or dad would soop down and send them back. I just love to watch them in their daily activities Such peaceful and pretty birds. We are very lucky I know they will be with us for a long time.

  3. Loved that you shared the details of a dove, so sweet and peaceful. Imagine its cooing, as I read your post.

  4. As fragile as peace. How beautiful. We have lots of mourning doves in Austin. Thry have a lovely cooing call. Great read!

  5. There was a spruce tree in our front yard when we moved here about 40 years ago. For all of those years the Dove family built nests and raised babies there. Usually the nest was in almost the same place in the tree branches each year. It was always just so few twigs that you could see daylight through the twig nest. The nest was always right outside our front door, at eye level by the time we had come up the steps and inside our home. For the first few years I fretted about their nest and the eggs or babies in it every time the spring storms came, but the little doves always survived the storms and grew up to build in close neighbors’ evergreen trees, or in our spruce, but they always had their family reunions as they grazed around in our front yard eating various seeds and taking turns at the birdbath. Generations of what I believe must have been the same dove family maybe have always lived here, before we did, while we are here, and I suppose after we are gone from here. Our spruce tree had to be cut down almost two years ago, so their old Homeplace is gone now, but the generations still return to graze in our yard and drink from the same old birdbath. I’ve been wanting to plant another spruce tree,

  6. I always think of my grandpa when I hear a Mourning Dove because that is the first time I ever heard one when I was at my grandpa’s house. So mournful, yet a beautiful sound. I think of them as gentle birds, but we have one who will come and sit in the middle of the feeder box and very aggressively chase all other Mourning Doves away. Thank you for all the information about one of my favorite birds.

  7. We have several Mourning Doves in our yard. I love their gently coos. I never knew how to tell male from female though. Interesting…now I can name them! 😉

  8. Just a quick note Brenda our lil Mallory survived her surgery but it has been an ordeal she came home with 50 + stitches and drains .This has been more of a surgery than we were told before ,she seems better today ,thank you for your concern .It is going to be a huge recovery process .
    I love the morning doves ,they are quiet elegant !
    Glad you have them to keep you and Charlie company .
    And very Glad Charlie is doing so good .

  9. Hi Brenda, I hope you are doing well! We had a nest with mourning doves on our porch this year. Two little babies only, one fell out of the nest and onto our porch. We moved some hay on the porch under the nest area in case the other one fell out. And you are so right on the flimsy nest…didn’t look like much of anything would stay in it! I’m working on getting back to the blog…look forward to reading your posts again!

    1. Benita, I read that the Doves eggshells are harder so the male takes the eggs and drops them to crack them. Amazing if true! But how far would be safe and how does the baby get back into the nest? I’m loving watching my little crew and learning about them!

  10. I am in NY. We had two doves that came back every year for about 4 years to a nest they remembered in a barn that was really more like a lean to. Finally last fall my husband put walls around it to use for storage and no access to the nest when they would return. Tough decision but it was needed. It broke my heart in spring when I saw one trying to bang up against the building trying to get in. I cried and my husband tried putting a large wooden box up in a nearby tree to give them shelter and build a new nest. It didn’t work. I tried feeders near by. Didn’t work. Gone, moved on. We felt terrible and once again only people with hearts for animals would know how we anguished over it.

    1. I would have been upset watching that too. Sorry this happened. From what I found out, they like to build flimsy nests. Do you have a bird bath? That seems to be what brings birds to my patio as I don’t have food out.