Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura 

by Karie Nugent 

The Mourning Dove is a member of the phylum Chordata, class Aves, order Columbiformes, and the family Columbidae.  Other common names for the mourning dove include stock dove, diamond dove, African collared dove, spotted dove, turtle dove,  eared dove, and white-winged dove.  The name pigeon can also sometimes be used interchangeably for the word dove.  “Pigeon” is usually given to the larger species of doves, while “dove” is given to the smaller, more delicate ones. 

Mourning Doves are usually medium in size and brownish in color.  They have a long, white-tipped tail that is usually rounded or pointed at the end.  This long tail helps to distinguish it from the White-winged Dove.  Usually the males are slightly larger than the females, and tend to be brighter in color.  The range of these birds covers North America and most of South America.  There are about five hundred million in North America alone.  They can live just about anywhere on the continent in the warm months, but prefer to make their homes in small towns, farms, open woods, roadsides, and grasslands.  Most choose to build their nests in tree branches, although a few make their nests on the ground.  They migrate to the South during the winter months and fly over a thousand miles to find a new home for the winter.  Mourning Doves are monogamous and are usually seen in pairs.  Some of them even stay together for the long trip down South. 

They mostly eat different types of seeds, waste grain, fruits, and insects.  They usually prefer to eat seeds from the ground, but will resort to eating seeds from bushes and trees when food on the ground becomes scarce.  Occasionally, Mourning Doves will eat agricultural crops such as corn, barley, rye, and oats, which can cause economic problems with farmers and their cash crops. 

Mourning Doves are very unusual in that they can produce milk similar to that of mammals.  During breeding, special glands in both the male and female enlarge to produce a thick milky substance to feed their young.  Unfortunately, because of their large population, the Mourning Dove is North America’s most sought after species during hunting season.  Luckily for them, they have acute vision and can fly up to fifty-five miles per hour.  

Written spring 2004, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University.  Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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