Friday, May 8, 2009

In the countryside... Mourning Dove

Mourning DoveMourning Dove, Fernhill Wetlands, Forest Grove, Oregon on 24 May 2004 by Greg Gillson.


The mournful "boo-hoo... boo-hoo-hoo" call of the Mourning Dove is familiar to most people across North America, from southern Canada through Mexico. In winter this bird retreats from the northern Great Plains, and is much reduced in the Great Basin region of the Pacific Northwest. These are the second most frequent species found in backyards across the United States, according to Project FeederWatch.

This bird is most common around farms and rural areas, but often visits bird feeders even in the city if there is water and some open areas nearby. They do not breed in deep forests or high mountains, but do occur in lower clearcuts. They are rather scarce along the immediate coastline and in the Coast Range north of California.

This plump pinkish-brown bird has a small, round, marble of a head on a thin neck. The long tail is sharply pointed. This is because of the graduated tail with longer central tail feathers, with each matching set of tail feathers gradually shorter to the base of the tail (see photo above). From above, the tail has a black subterminal band and white tips to the feathers on the sides of the tail. This is best seen on flying birds when they fan their tail to land on the ground.

These birds feed on seeds on the ground. You may encounter them flushing away with whistling wings from the gravel edge of a country road. You may also see them perched on roadside power lines digesting their latest meal. Believe it or not, Mourning Doves eat up to 20% of their body weight each day! For more information on the fascinating life history of these birds please see the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's online field guide All About Birds.

To attract Mourning Doves to your yard, use large tray feeders, or spread seeds on the ground. They will eat oats, wheat, and cracked corn, but millet and sunflower seeds are preferred. They will also appreciate a bird bath for drinking. Nearby scattered trees and evergreens offer protection and a place to build their flimsy stick nests. They frequently choose a smaller dead tree as a favorite perch.