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  • Writer's pictureJane Schnelker

Wildlife Profile ~ Mourning Dove

Knowing the natural history of the species you are working with is just as important in rehabilitation as a thorough knowledge of basics such as diet and medical care. Really understanding the species you are working with can be very helpful when it comes to such things as understanding certain behaviors and release criteria. Living in north central Ohio, my personal experience with doves is with the Mourning Dove, the only species we have. Other areas of the country have other species, but care is similar for all of the dove family.

The Mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, belongs to the family Columbidae. The most abundant dove in the United States, the Mourning dove’s name comes from its moaning, mournful-sounding call. Found across the United States and southern Canada, it is most common throughout the Mid-west. Male and female adults are both a grayish-brown shade overall and quite similar, although the males tend to be more iridescent, especially on the throat.

In warm climates, they can produce six broods per year, the most of any bird. Typically, two eggs are laid in a loosely built nest in an evergreen tree, although a wide variety of nest sites can be used, including clumps of grass. Clutches of 3 or 4 eggs can occur but are likely due to nest parasitism by another Mourning dove. The female dove builds the nest, while the male brings her the materials. It takes from 1 to 4 days to build the nest and if it remains in good condition it may be reused.

Both sexes share the duties required by the 14-day incubation period, with the male sitting on the eggs for the largest portion of the daylight hours. Nestlings hatch sequentially, so one will usually be larger than the other. Annually, under good conditions a pair of doves may successfully raise 5 to 6 young.

The nestlings are fed from the parent’s crop. The first few days they are fed solely on “crop milk”, a term for the thick liquid produced by a sloughing off of glandular cells in the crop. (Males produce this thick liquid for 4 to 6 days longer than the female.) By the third day the young are being fed a mix of “crop milk” and seeds regurgitated by the parents. By the 6th to 8th day they are totally on seed . The nestlings grow quickly and by days 11 to 14, the young fledge. Within a week or so of fledging, they are entirely on their own and can be found feeding in flocks with other juveniles and adults.

Doves feed primarily on the ground, consuming waste grain and weed seeds. Their crops fill quickly with seeds, and digestion, aided by swallowed grit, occurs while they are resting, often in groups perched on wires or in trees. Flocks are formed in every season except when the birds are breeding - then the birds disperse in pairs. When disturbed, Mourning doves burst into strong, rapid flight with a whistling of wings.


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