Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves are a common sight throughout the United States.  They can be found in most of the Continental United States year-round and during the summer, in virtually every corner of the Continental United States.

Mourning Doves most often will eat seeds that are plainly visible to them on the ground and will sometimes eat from plants directly.

A Mourning Dove Looking for Fallen Thistle Seeds from a Thistle Seed Sock Above.

A Mourning Dove Looking for Fallen Thistle Seeds from a Thistle Seed Sock Above.

The dropped seeds from thistle seed socks and other seed feeders, as well as fallen pieces of suet in my backyard, attract a lot of Mourning Doves, often times, a dozen or more at once.  The messy habits of the sparrows, finches and other birds eating at the various hanging feeders provides an easy meal on the ground for the Mourning Doves.

Sometimes, the Mourning Doves will go directly to the seed or suet source.  Although it always looks as if it is a precarious balancing act for them to do so.

A Mourning Dove Perches Atop a Suet Feeder for its Next Meal

A Mourning Dove Perches Atop a Suet Feeder for its Next Meal

Despite their relatively large size, compared to the finches and sparrows that normally feed at the suet and seed feeders, as you can see in the picture above, the smaller birds are not deterred by the larger dove sitting on the suet cage.  The sparrow above seems to be performing aerial acrobatics while coming in for a landing on the suet feeder.

If the seeds are attractive enough, the Doves will find a way to balance on the smallest of areas to gain access to the seeds.

A Mourning Dove Balances on the Rim of a Seed Feeder to Eat a Variety of Seeds

A Mourning Dove Balances on the Rim of a Seed Feeder to Eat a Variety of Seeds

Mourning Doves are considered a game bird and despite more than 20 million being shot annually, their numbers remain strong.  Mostly, because a pair of doves can raise up to six broods a year, with the average brood consisting of two chicks.

This spring my niece, who lives a few hours away from Las Vegas, discovered a pair of Mourning Doves had taken an interest in a plant stand she had placed under her backyard patio.

The pair, she named Dennis and Doris, picked a shelf several feet above the ground and behind a green ‘owl’ faced ceramic pot to build their nest.  They started their nest on Easter Sunday.  Mourning Doves will nest in tree limbs, rain gutters, roofs, the ground and even backyard plant shelves.  They have readily adapted to living around urban areas as well as in fields and forests.

A Mourning Dove's Nest

A Mourning Dove’s Nest (Photo Courtesy of H. Lee)

Doris, the female Mourning Dove, would have chosen this site to build their flimsy nest, after following Dennis to several potential sites.  Dennis would gather twigs, needles, grass and other similar items and bring them to Doris for her to arrange to make their flimsy nest.  The nest-building takes between 2 and four days to build.

Once the nest is completed, the female Mourning Dove will usually lay two eggs, about a day a part.

The First of Two Eggs in a Mourning Dove's Nest

The First of Two Eggs in a Mourning Dove’s Nest (Courtesy of H. Lee)

Both parents, in the case of the nest above, Dennis and Doris, share the incubating of the eggs, with the male sitting on the eggs from morning to mid- to late-afternoon and the female the rest of the day.

“Dennis the Dove” Takes His Turn Incubating the Eggs (Courtesy of H. Lee)

After about 14 days, the eggs hatch.

Dennis Stands Nearby His Recently Hatched Squabs

Dennis Stands Nearby His Recently Hatched Squabs (Courtesy of H. Lee)

Both parents will continue to sit on the young birds who are called squabs and who are helpless and covered with down.  The parents will feed the young squabs a pigeon milk, that is made in their crops for the first few days, after which it is augmented with seed.

The Mourning Dove Sits Atop its Young Squabs to Help Keep them Warm Until they are Large Enough to Regulate their Body Temperature (Courtesy of H. Lee)

The Mourning Dove Sits Atop its Young Squabs to Help Keep them Warm Until they are Large Enough to Regulate their Body Temperature (Courtesy of H. Lee)

The young squabs grow quickly and will be big enough to fledge in just 12-14 days.

Young Mourning Doves a Few Days Old

Young Mourning Doves a Few Days Old (Courtesy of H. Lee)

Baby Mourning Doves between 7 - 10 Days Old

Baby Mourning Doves (Phil and Claire) between 7 – 10 Days Old (Courtesy of H. Lee)

After about 12-14 days, the young mourning doves are large enough to fledge from the nest.  They will often stay nearby the parents for a day or two, before leaving to find their own way.

The recently fledged Mourning Dove below, found its way to my back yard within a day or two of when the doves hatched on my nieces backyard plant shelf left their nest.  Doris and Dennis’ babies, whom were named Phil and Claire, left their nest, presumably never to be seen again.  Phil and Claire would have looked very similar to the dove below at the time of their fledging.

A Recently Fledged Mourning Dove

A Recently Fledged Mourning Dove

You can see that all of the ‘adult’ feathers have not grown in, but the young dove has enough of them, at 14 days, to fly and look for food.

Mourning Doves most often eat seeds found on the ground and this young dove learned to find seeds quickly in my back yard.

A Young Mourning Dove Looks for Fallen Seeds on the Cement in my Backyard

A Young Mourning Dove Looks for Fallen Seeds on the Cement in my Backyard

As you watch Mourning Doves looking for food, you will likely notice that they pick up anything that might be a seed and then bite it with their beak to see if it is.  If not, they will drop the pebble or other object and move on looking for a seed.

A Young Morning Dove Test Whether it has Found a Seed or Not by Picking it Up between Its Beak.

A Young Morning Dove Test Whether it has Found a Seed or Not by Picking it Up between Its Beak.

This young dove quickly learned, after being chased away by an older Mourning Dove and being hit by the older dove’s wing, if you want to get the fallen seeds, you may have to be aggressive.  After being chased off just once by an older dove, the young dove became the aggressor and kept chasing off adult doves who wanted his prime location for seed hunting, beneath the hanging thistle seed sock.  He was able to keep them away for a good 20 minutes, while he ate.

As you watch Mourning Doves, sunbathing on walls or on tree limbs, hunting for food, or chasing one another, you quickly realize each of these birds seem to have their own personality.  After 15 or 20 minutes of defending your seed territory, chasing off would-be intruders, and eating your fill of seeds, sometimes, you just have to stop and scratch.

Once the scratching was done, this Mourning Dove resumed its hunt for fallen seeds.


To learn more about Mourning Doves visit the websites below:

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