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Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura



Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Columbiformes
Family: Columbidae

Physical Characteristics

About 12 inches (30 cm) long with large white spots on its pointed tail (Peterson, 1990). The blackish bill is very thin and delicate. The upperparts are a light dull grey with a slight buff to blue-grey tinge at the nape and outer part of the wing. There are black markings on the wing coverts and scapulars. The primary wing feathers are dull black with narrow pale edgings to the outer web. The upper part of the throat is whitish. The head is neat, colored red-buff with short black facial streaks behind and below the eye. There is also a slight buffy tinge to blue-grey on the center of the crown. The sides of the neck feature a patch of pink, purple-pink and/or bronze iridescence. The buff coloration of the face yields to a deep vinous pink on the breast, becoming buff on the lower breast, belly, and under tail coverts. The flanks and underwing are blue-grey. The female is paler and duller, with a slightly shorter tail than the male (Goodwin, 1983). Weak feet and legs do not allow this bird to effectively scratch the ground or cling to upright stems or twigs (Leopold, et al., 1981).


Prairie, desert, open woodland, agricultural lands, and urban areas are the native habitat for this builder of flimsy platform nests (Leopold, et al., 1981).

Geographic Range

This species is found from southern Canada south to southern Baja California, Sonora, Oaxaca, Puebla, northern Tamaulipas, Texas, the Gulf Coast, and southern Florida. Also found in the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, Costa Rica, Panama, and the western Mexican islands (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983).


The Mourning Dove is a ground feeder that primarily consumes weed seeds and waste agricultural grain that has fallen to the ground. It must drink daily (Leopold, et al., 1981). Its favorite agricultural grain is wheat. When necessary, snails and other small invertebrates may be eaten. These doves normally forage in pairs or loose knit groups (Goodwin, 1983). The doves and pigeons are unique birds in that they do not have to raise their heads to drink (Leahy, 1982).

Reproductive Characteristics

Zenaida macroura is a communal rooster who tends to nest in trees, shrubs, or old nests of other species. Occasionally the ground or a building ledge will serve (Goodwin, 1983). Z. macroura lays two white eggs. The first is laid in the evening and the second is laid in the early morning 2 days later. The incubation period is 14-15.5 days. The squabs fledge at 13-15 days. The nest is kept clean for the first week or so, since the parents eat the castings (Goodwin, 1983). These monogamous breeders maintain their pairings for the entire nesting season. Since they nest several times during a season, both parents incubate and care for the squabs. Doves and pigeons feed their young with a "crop-milk" that is made of cellular material sloughed from areas of specialized epithelial tissue in each lobe of the crop. During the nestlings first 4 or 5 days, they are feed "crop-milk" exclusively, and then it is mixed with gradually increasing numbers of seeds (Leopold, et al., 1981).


The Mourning Dove is probably the most important game bird in North America. It is fully compatible with man and his modern environments. Its strong power of flight allows it to travel some distance from its nest for food and water (Leopold, et al., 1981). In flight this bird appears swift and darting, making a characteristic whistling sound. It throws up its tail just after landing, which also is an indicator of impending flight (Goodwin, 1983). When nearby, the sound of a hollow mournful coah-cooo-cooo-coo identifies this species; from a distance, only the cooo-cooo-coo is heard (Peterson, 1990).

Literature Cited

American Ornithologists' Union. 1983. Check-list of North American birds, 6th ed. Allen Press, Lawrence, 877 pp.

Goodwin, D. 1983. Pigeons and doves of the world, 3rd ed. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, 363 pp.

Leahy, C. 1982. The birdwatcher's companion: an encyclopedic handbook of North American birdlife. Hill and Wang, New York, 917 pp.

Leopold, A. S., R. J. Guti‚rrez, and M. T. Bronson. 1981. North American game birds and mammals. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 198 pp.

Peterson, R. T. 1990. A field guide to western birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 432 pp.

Mary Kirschenbaum, July 1996.


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