THE MOURNING DOVE
Primarily a bird of open country, scattered trees, and woodland edges, Mourning Doves are now a very common site at birdfeeders in backyards as well.
These large birds are easy to recognize as they show the typical dove-like features such as a small head on a plump body which is supported by very short reddish legs. In flight, the body appears streamlined and the wings taper to a point. They can be told from other members of this family by their overall light brown colour and long wedge shaped tail. Closer inspection will reveal that every Mourning Dove sports a small black beauty spot on each side of its face. Males and females look almost identical but in late winter, if you look carefully, you may notice that some birds develop a light pink wash over their chests. The pink wash is part of the breeding plumage of the male Mourning Dove and is the best way to tell the difference between the two sexes.
Late March is also the time to start to listen for the soft drawn out cooing of the Mourning Dove. Once you hear their sad sounding song, you will know why they were named Mourning Dove. Sometimes people mistake the cooing call of the Mourning Dove for the hooting of an owl, and the Barred Owl is very well known for its daytime hooting. You will not be fooled if you remember that the cooing of the dove is soft, but the hootings of owls tend to be much more robust. Another Mourning Dove sound to listen for is a distinctive high pitched whistling produced by their rapid and powerful wingbeats.
When Mourning Doves first visit a new yard, they may be rather skittish and tend to fly away easily, however, an offering of bird seed is likely to draw them back. Approximately ninety-eight percent of the Mourning Dove's diet is composed of seeds. They are great birds to have around as they eat enormous amounts of weed seeds. You may also observe that they will appear to be interested in your driveway. Mourning Doves often check out driveways while searching for tiny angular pebbles called grit which they swallow to help them “chew” their food.
Mourning Doves feed on the ground out in the open. They peck or push aside ground litter, but don’t scratch at the ground. Males have favourite “cooing perches” they defend from other males. Members of a pair preen each other with gentle nibbles around the neck as a pair-bonding ritual. Eventually, the pair will progress to grasping beaks and bobbing their heads up and down in unison.
These birds are not difficult to attract to your yard. Small grains such as millet are a favourite. Featherfields’ Squirrel Free blend containing white millet, canola, canary seed and safflower is a great choice. They’re happy with almost anything though. Black oil sunflower seed and steel-cut corn are other good choices. Doves are happiest feeding on the ground but platform or fly-thru feeders are an ideal way to make them comfortable while keeping the mess to a minimum. Featherfields’ new large Fly-Thru Cedar Feeder is a good choice at a great price. Its large platform feeding area is perfect for doves, cardinals and jays. The perforated screen base and large roof keep seed dry.
Learn more about Mourning Doves and other favourite backyard birds in Audubon’s new North American Birdfeeder Guide. It covers the best ways to attract, observe, and feed birds in your own backyard.
Emily White, B.Sc.