Mourning Doves: Remarkably adapted or too dumb to be true?

Mourning Doves make themselves right at home in my back yard all year round. Although they adapt to a variety of habitats, these beautiful birds thrive in back yards where open, grassy areas mix with flower beds and shrubs.

Mourning Doves are one of the most abundant birds in Northern Virginia neighborhoods and the most common dove in North America. They are considered protected songbirds in some states and popular game birds in others. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, hunters take more Mourning Doves than all other migratory game birds combined in the U.S..

You’d think this would give them good reason to be alarmed by people, but the ones in my neighborhood seem less concerned than other back yard visitors. Mourning Doves are not only easy and fun to watch, at times they are unavoidable.

One year they built a nest right next to the house on the air conditioning unit and laid two white eggs before anyone noticed. No one really minded; it certainly helped lower our electric bills and we had fun watching the hatchlings grow.

This also sparked a lively conversation about their survival instincts. Why build a nest in an exposed spot that was so near people? To us, this seemed like a terrible idea, but all the hatchlings survived so perhaps they were smarter than we supposed.

However, Mourning Doves are prolific breeders with the longest nesting season of any bird in the U.S., which likely plays the larger role in the survival of the species.

Last winter during the big snows, I noticed two pair of Mourning Doves perched near the bird feeders. Although they do eat seeds, Mourning Doves are too large to perch on most feeders and prefer to pick seeds from the ground and fruits from the bush.

These particular doves, however, didn’t seem interested in food but stayed perched in pairs for hours at a time. Puffed up and shivering to stay warm, the snow started to pile up on their backs. At first  we worried this strategy could only lead to frozen birds.

But after some further thought, we wondered why the snow on their backs didn’t melt, despite the fact that Mourning Doves have a body temperature of 108 degrees. The answer, we found, is in the feathers. Bird feathers, especially the downy ones underneath, do such a good job insulating birds from the cold that the snow can pile up without melting and add yet another layer of insulation.

Mourning Doves generally feed early in the morning, mid-afternoon, and again at evening. Then they relocate to areas with water. Sunflowers are a favorite food, so when you fill your bird feeders, remember to scatter some on the ground for nearby Mourning Doves.

Attracting Mourning Doves to your back yard guarantees hours of fun watching these amusing birds. Don’t be fooled by their large size and clumsy movements… or behaviours that seem too dumb to be true at first glance.  Mourning Doves are survivors with unique adaptations that help them survive a wide range of conditions and threats.

Amazingly, Mourning Doves can fly at speeds approaching 50 miles per hour. They can swerve and dive at a moment’s notice to evade a predator.  They easily adapt to a wide range of habitats, including urban and suburban neighborhoods.

And, despite their status as one of the most popular game birds, Mourning Doves are the 10th most abundant bird in the U.S. They are remarkable birds and valued members of our suburban communities.

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3 comments so far

  1. fabfav on

    Found some good info in your post. I doubt that Mourning Doves should be considered “too dumb to be true”, though, because the tactic of nesting near people seems more like a smart decision. Animals are generally scared off by humans, so the birds would most likely be sheltered from more predators by nesting in open areas closer to humans than if they would nest in a tree somewhere farther away.

  2. Diane Day on

    We have a Mourning Dove we call baby bird. He has been with us almost since he left his nest. We have no idea why. He began to fly really close to us, across our shoulders and then began to follow us. We started feeding him and he visits two to three times a day. Sometimes he will hang around all day. He has been around for about six months now. He loves for us to talk to him and gets very close to our faces at times, Now we have had our first snow and feel sorry for the little fellow. From what I have read he will survive. He seems to be a loner only occasionally showing up with one or two other mourning doves. One of them is getting use to us also. But does not come nearly as often as he does. He acts as though he would like to come in the house and I believe he would if we were to let him. We won’t though, he needs to be able to fly and be a bird. We enjoy his company and feel blessed to have this little fellow around.

  3. Helmut hanss on

    My wife and I have ben feeding mourning doves in our backyard for 8years in the winter we counted sometimes more than 50 at a time.I build a large feeder to put on the ground.it was fun to watch .but in 2014 late fall we have had rats under our garden shed and later in our attic.I poisoned the rats, it took me quiet a wile .that is when I stopped feeding the birds.


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