Bird of the Week #6: Mourning Dove

Large Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove carries the distinction of being the only North American bird classified as both a gamebird and as a songbird. That alone makes it a special visitor to my backyard, but they’re also welcome for many other reasons. The Mourning Dove also personifies quite well what I’ve been discovering about birds since I became passionate about them: that every bird is more interesting the more you study them. I learned lots of neat things about Mourning Doves when I started researching for this article and hopefully you’ll learn something cool too!

Every now and then I get a bird with so much personality that I have to name him. Maybe the biggest (literally) example is Fatso, a gigantic Mourning Dove. Fatso doesn’t visit every day, but compared to the other Mourning Doves, he is massive! He’s closer to the size of a Rock Pigeon. Fatso is pictured above.

Large Mourning Dove resting in a tree

If you sit outside early in the morning or late in the evening, you’ll hear the signature coo­-ing of the Mourning Dove. It’s a relaxing, tranquil sound quite unlike the animated trilling and whistling of the other, more colorful songbirds. Doves had historically symbolized peace and hearing a Mourning Dove speaks to exactly why. Their song is consistent, steady, and easy; certainly my favorite part of having them nearby.

Some describe their song as being mournful, which is where their name comes from. Unlike other songbirds, they don’t actually sing. Instead, they inflate their throats, making the sound by pushing the air out through their skin. They don’t open their mouths to sing at all.

Another sound they’re known for is a whistling sound they make when they take off. It may, at first, be mistaken for an alarm call of some sort, but it’s actually just caused by the air going through their wings. It serves the same purpose as an alarm call, but isn’t made as a vocalization at all.

Identifying Mourning Doves is easy. They have an overall grayish-tan color and are shaped like any other dove. Mourning Doves have spots along their wings in the back. The closest looking bird I’ve come across would probably be the Eurasian Collared Dove, which has a ring around the back of its neck and lacks the spots, despite the overall coloration being similar.

As far as diet goes, they eat seeds and are not picky about which ones they eat. For the most part, Mourning Doves prefer to eat off the ground, though I’ve seen them jump onto my feeders on occasion. Since they eat off the ground, Mourning Doves can be helpful for cleaning up the scraps that the other birds drop. If your seed happens to contain junk like cracked corn, milo, or millet, which most other birds dislike, the Mourning Doves will take care of it for you.

Two Mourning Doves

The only way I could conceive of having issues with attracting Mourning Doves is that you might be using a “no-mess” or “patio” bird seed blend. The doves prefer to eat off the ground, so buying a blend like that might be keeping extra scraps from falling. Either way, Mourning Doves are pretty much mainstay birds at feeders and aren’t difficult to attract.

They can, unfortunately, get a little testy with other birds at feeders. I’ve never seen them actually attack another bird, but they do like their space if they happen to land on my tray feeders. Other birds tend to avoid Mourning Doves, if only because the doves are bigger. But beyond that, my Mourning Doves keep to themselves. They’ll usually feed on the ground when other birds won’t (unless it’s winter and the juncos are around) and perch away from everyone else. I’ve never seen more than four doves at a time, so crowds aren’t an issue.

Do you get Mourning Dove visitors? Do you love their sad songs as much as I do? Let me know!

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