Zenaida macrouramourning dove

Geographic Range

Mourning doves are only native to the Nearctic region. They live from southern Canada, throughout the United States, and south to Panama. Mourning doves are found year-round throughout most of their range but northern populations migrate south during the winter. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)


Mourning doves are highly adaptable birds and are found in a wide variety of habitats. They are more common in open woodlands and forest edges near grasslands and fields. They are most abundant in agricultural and suburban areas where humans have created large areas of suitable habitat. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

Physical Description

Mourning doves are medium-sized birds in the pigeon family. Their size, weight, and specific coloration vary across their range. They have a stream-lined appearance, with a relatively small head and a long, pointed tail. They are overall grayish blue to grayish brown on their backs with black spots on their wings and behind their eyes. There are white tips on the tail. They have a small, black bill and red legs and feet. Males are larger than females and are slightly brighter in color, males have a bluish crown and a rosy breast. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    96.0 to 170.0 g
    3.38 to 5.99 oz
  • Range length
    22.5 to 36.0 cm
    8.86 to 14.17 in
  • Range wingspan
    142.0 to 150.0 mm
    5.59 to 5.91 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.736 W


Mourning doves are monogamous, some pairs stay together through the winter. Males perform a number of displays, along with a courtship "coo", on a display perch. They will drive other males away from their display perch but do not otherwise establish a territory until after mating. Females land near the male on his display perch, causing the male to begin an elaborate series of courtship maneuvers. If a pair bond is formed, the male and female remain together for a few days before starting to build a nest. After finding a mate, males begin selecting a nest site. Nest construction takes over ten hours and covers a span of three to four days. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

Female mourning doves generally lay two small, white eggs in an open nest. The young leave the nest about 15 days after hatching but remain nearby until they are more accomplished at flying, usually at about 30 days old. Young are able to breed by 85 days old. Mourning doves have the longest breeding season of all North American birds. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Breeding interval
    Mourning doves may breed several times in a breeding season, depending on food availability.
  • Breeding season
    February through October
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    15.0 (high) days
  • Average time to hatching
    14.0 days
  • Average fledging age
    15.0 days
  • Average time to independence
    30 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    85.0 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    85.0 days

Both male and female mourning doves share in incubating and feeding their young. Incubation lasts 14 to 15 days. Young mourning doves are fed regurgitated food by both parents. For the first 3 to 4 days after hatching the young are fed only crop milk, an energy rich substance that is produced in the crops of both male and female parents. After that time, parents begin to add more seeds to the regurgitated food until they are fed only regurgitated seeds by the time the young leave the nest. Female mourning doves feed the young most during the first 15 days after hatching but after that males take over the responsibility for feeding the young. The young continue to stay near the nest and beg for food after they have fledged, but can survive on their own after 21 days old if there is food nearby. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Adult mourning doves usually live to about 1.5 years old in the wild, but one wild mourning dove lived to 19.3 years old. Some areas of the United States allow hunting of mourning doves, in these areas average lifespan is lower than in areas where hunting is not allowed. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    19.3 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    1.5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    376 months
    Bird Banding Laboratory


Two much-studied behaviors of mourning doves are their monogamous mating and their migration patterns. Mourning doves migrate south from their breeding grounds each fall to a more hospitable climate for the winter months. During migration these birds may fly over 1000 miles to reach their winter resting spot. Mourning doves are swift and direct in flight. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

Communication and Perception

Mourning doves use a variety of body displays to scare away intruders, threaten invading males, and attract potential mates. Mourning doves also use a suite of songs and calls to communicate with other mourning doves. The male's song to attract a mate is often heard throughout the warm months of the year. It is a simple call, sounding like: 'coo oo, OO, OO, OO. Mourning doves also make some non-vocal sounds in flight, they make a whistling noise while flying and sometimes make sharp flapping noises with their wings. The purpose of these sounds is unknown.

When young mourning doves tap on their parent's bills it stimulates regurgitation of crop milk. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

Food Habits

Mourning doves eat a wide variety of seeds, waste grain, fruit, and insects. They prefer seeds that rest on the gound. Occasionally they eat in trees and bushes when ground foods are scarce. Their diet is typically 95% seeds or plant parts. Mourning doves eat agricultural crops, especially cereal grains such as corn, millet, rye, barley, and oats. On rare occasions mourning doves can be seen preying on grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and snails. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • mollusks
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Mourning doves are swift and maneuverable in flight, so can escape most predators if they are aware of their presence. The exception to this are falcons, such as peregrine falcons and prairie falcons. Adult mourning doves will try to lure predators away from their nests by pretending to be injured. This is called the "broken-wing feign." They flutter about on the ground in front of the predator, as if they had a broken wing, and lure them away from the area of their nest. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Mourning doves consume large quantities of grains, seeds, and fruits. This has a significant impact on the plant communities in which they live. They may act as seed dispersers for certain fruiting plants that they feed upon. (Basket, et al., 1993; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Mourning doves are the leading game birds in North America, providing more than 1.9 million recreational hunting trips each year. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Positive Impacts
  • food

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Because they eat cereal grains, mourning doves can occasionally become pests of crops. (Basket, et al., 1993; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Mourning doves are widespread and abundant, they are not threatened currently. (Basket, et al., 1993; Mirarchi and Baskett, 1994; U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2007)


Ann Emiley (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Basket, , Sayre, Tomlins, Sayre. 1993. Ecology and management of the Mourning Dove. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books.

Mirarchi, R., T. Baskett. 1994. Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura. The Birds of North America, 117: 1-20.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, F. 2007. "Zenaida macroura" (On-line). Fire Effects Information System. Accessed April 09, 2007 at http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/animals/bird/zema/all.html.