My wife suggested that we research a bird species each month and write a little something about the chosen bird. She has kicked it off with the common and beautiful morning dove. I personally got a kick out of reading her article. I hope you enjoy it too!
It’s been said that “time spent studying the common species is always time well invested.” This must be true, because you don’t just throw around the definitive ‘always’ without undeniable truths or enjoyment of ridicule. Ridicule, although delightful on the giving end, is not warranted here, due to the fact that studying common species of birds allows for easier and faster identification of rare birds, which is the main goal of many.
I do enjoy seeing a new or rare species, but have always appreciated (yes, even when they do things like poop on my car) more common species, including the mourning dove.
Although I have an appreciation for the mourning dove, I can’t say I’ve really studied them or know much about them; which would put me in a bad way if I ever found myself in the lower Rio Grande, where I would potentially miss the lifer White-tipped Dove. Which, really, if you think about it wouldn’t be as bad as missing (or ‘dipping’ as crazy bird people call it) on the White-winged Dove, because come on, you have to see that one, there’s a song about it! Juveniles may also be confused with ground doves or inca doves. By 3 months old juveniles resemble adult birds.
Mourning doves are one of, if not the, most common bird in North America. They span from southern Canada to central Mexico. There are a few reasons why they can maintain such a large population. The mourning dove lives in open to semi-open country, including the dessert where they are helped by the ability to survive on brackish water. They may have had help in increasing population size in North America by the deforestation done by European settlers. They tend to avoid unbroken forrest, which made me rack my brain for any memory of a mourning dove at the cabin. Seeing as I came up empty, I tend to believe the 3 bird sources I consulted on this matter.
Another reason mourning doves are so common is they are the rabbits of the bird world. A pair may raise up to 6 broods per year in warmer climates, making them the top native bird reproducers. Much like when Brandon and I were house hunting, the ‘husband’ mourning dove leads the ‘wife’ around the neighborhood to show her suitable nesting sites and chooses one she likes. Much unlike Brandon and I, the ‘husband’ bird brings his little wifey sticks, one at time, which she arranges while he stands on her back. The need to use a popular nineties catch phrase here is almost required: As if!
The female usually lays 2 white eggs that take 14 days to hatch. Again, like Brandon and I, the male and female take turns with the kids. The female takes the evening to morning shift, while the male gets the mid-morning to evening shift. They both feed the babies crop milk, a substance which is secreted from the bird’s crop. If one of the parents goes missing early enough in the babies lives, they will not survive on the crop milk of just the remaining parent. [Insert tear here, then move on to a random, interesting fact to make you forget about the last tear-jerking one] One observation from 1892 noted a robins nest containing 1 robin egg, 2 black-billed cuckoo eggs and 2 mourning dove eggs.
Mourning doves mainly eat seeds, which they collect in the crop and then digest later while resting. One mourning dove was found with 17,200 bluegrass seeds in its crop, which makes me wonder how much 17,200 bluegrass seeds would weigh. This information was not obtained in a 1 minute google search, so it will go unanswered mainly because it’s late and I’m tired. Lead poisoning is a problem in mourning doves because they eat off the ground. Records indicate ingestion by some doves of greater than 40 pellets.
Mourning doves are the leading game bird, with estimates of 20-45 million hunted every year, for both meat and sport. The latter of which adds yet another reason to move to the U.P., seeing how as how mourning doves are currently not (legally) hunted in Michigan. I did learn from one individual that ate mourning doves to survive, that the meat was the toughest meat she had ever eaten. Now whether this is the birds fault or the fault of her cooking skills, she did not know. Either way, I’m pretty sure I will not find out unless I become as unfortunate as she was at that time and need to hunt mourning doves for survival.
Hunting and lead poisoning are not the only dangers to mourning doves. In fact, they have a death rate of 50-60% annually. The average life expectancy is only 1.5 years. They fall victim to all the normal causes of death that birds face including, raptors, cats, cars, weather and so on. One defense mechanism they have are loosely attached feathers that allows lucky birds to pull free from predators. They can also fly 55 m.p.h., helping them elude some predators. On a bright note, however, the record for wild bird lifespan in north america belongs to a 31 year old mourning dove. (I think this is true, or I read wrong and it is just the record for mourning doves, but either way pretty impressive.)
Reading about the mourning dove was interesting and also gave me fun facts which I have already been able to use in everyday conversation. Just the other day Hawaii was brought up and I had the pleasure to inform those around me that mourning doves were introduced there in 1963 and a small population still resides there. A few other gems I’ve got in my back pocket just itching to get out are that mourning doves suck up water to drink and they pant like dogs instead of sweating. A quick search on mourning doves in popular culture lead me to a quote from Mourning Dove the Native American, “Everything on the Earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.” This months mourning dove mission is complete and now, if time allows, dark-eyed juncos are next.
Peterson, R.T. (1990). Western Birds. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Kaufman, K. (2011). Field Guide to Advanced Birding. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Sibley, D.A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition. New York: Random House.