Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

A tan bird perches on a twig.

NPS/Gordon Dietzman

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The status of the mourning dove is controversial. In some states it is hunted as a fast, acrobatic, and challenging game bird; in other states it is protected as a songbird. Despite 10s of millions being taken each year by hunters, the population has remained relatively stable, probably due to the bird's high reproductive capacity.

Many pairs will nest four or five times each summer and produce from 1-4 eggs each nesting. Nests are constructed by the female using twigs brought to her by the male and are simple platforms on which the eggs are incubated and young are protected.

The young are initially fed “pigeon” milk, a rich broth of cells sloughed off the inside of the adult’s crop that is particularly rich in proteins, fats, and water. After 5-11 days, the chicks are weaned off this diet and onto a regurgitated mix of fruits and seeds. A few days later the young leave the nest, although they usually remain in the area, freeing the adults to begin a new family.

Doves eat primarily hard, dry foods and therefore need to consume significantly larger quantities of water than many other birds. But birds are typically more vulnerable to predators when drinking water. To drink water most birds take a sip and then tip their heads upwards to drink. Doves actually immerse their bills and suck water. This method of drinking is much faster and reduces the amount of time doves are vulnerable to predators.

Fascinating Facts

  • Watch and listen for the mating flights of males. The flight begins as the bird flies upwards from his perch vigorously clapping his wings together and then gliding downwards in a spiral flight with wings held stiffly downward.


  • Key ID Features: Soft gray/tan body with long, pointed tail bordered in white. Both sexes similar.
  • Present in Park: Mid-March through October, but many winter in the Park and surrounding areas where they readily frequent bird feeders.
  • Habitat: Mature-forested neighborhoods, agricultural fields. Nests are flimsy platforms made from twigs and located in trees or tall shrubs.
  • Voice: Soft cooing.

Last updated: March 29, 2022

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