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American Mourning Dove

The American mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is a dull tannish cream and light grey color. Both males and females are extremely similar in coloration. While pairs and even trios of doves may be seen on the ground on the acreage, they are heard more often than seen. Their call is almost constant in the spring and fall; many people mistake their call for soft spoken owls, yet the mourning doves call all day long.

Mourning doves prefer to feed on seeds and eat a wide variety of different types of smaller seeds. They feed on the ground, swallowing seeds and storing them in an enlargement of the crop or throat area. The average dove consumes about 15 to 20 percent of its body weight in seeds per day. When the crop is full, a dove will fly to a safe perch where it can digest the meal.

To attract these birds scatter seeds, such as millet, on the ground or low platform feeders. If the seed is placed on or above a mulched area rather than a lawn or bare ground, the volunteer plants from the seeds will be less of a concern. Shrubs or dense cedar trees adjacent to feeding areas form a protective habitat and will increase their survival rates. More importantly, try to protect the area from domesticated cats. Mourning doves spend the majority of their time on the ground and are vulnerable to predatory cats and dogs.

The mourning dove generally will pair with one mate each season and may stay with that same mate for life. In the dove's mating season, usually spring and early summer in Nebraska, it is common to witness the Mourning Dove's social behavioral display. Three doves will follow or chase in formation. The lead bird is the male of a mated pair while the second dove is an unmated rival male from the home range. The third is the female of the pair.

Mourning Doves usually build nests in heavier branched shrubs and conifer trees. Over a week both the female and male collect straw, small twigs, and evergreen needles. Passing materials back and forth, the pair attempts to weave a 6- to 8-inch diameter nest. Unfortunately, the construction is weak and occasionally is destroyed by spring storms.

Two white eggs in each clutch or brood is common. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs for 15 days and care for the young. The young are fed a masticated liquid called pigeon milk from the crops of their parents and the young grow quickly, leaving the nest about 15 days after hatching.

Image of Mourning Dove from Wikipedia.

Image of Dennis Ferraro
Dennis Ferraro
Wildlife Biologist & Herpetologist Extension Specialist
Dennis Ferraro is the resident herpetologist and wildlife biologist at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln School of Natural Resources. He has been a UNL faculty member since 1990.