Exploring the Mourning Dove: Nesting, Egg Laying, and Feeding Habits

A mourning dove with light brown and gray plumage, recognizable by its black spots on the wings, is perched on a tree branch. The serene background is lush and green, suggesting a forested area, while the soft Mourning Dove call, characteristic of Zenaida macroura, fills the air.

Understanding Mourning Doves

Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are a common sight in many parts of North America. These medium-sized birds are known for their gentle cooing sounds and graceful flight. In this article, we will delve into the nesting, egg laying, and feeding habits of mourning doves, offering valuable insights and tips for creating a suitable habitat for them.

By understanding the behaviors and preferences of mourning doves, you can create an environment that attracts these beautiful birds to your backyard. Whether you want to observe their unique nesting habits or learn about their dietary preferences, this article has got you covered. So let's dive in and explore the fascinating world of mourning doves!

Habitat Preference: Where to Find Mourning Doves

Mourning doves are a common sight in many areas of North America, and understanding their habitat preferences can help you attract these beautiful birds to your backyard. Here are some key points to consider:

1. Open Land with Trees and Shrubs

Mourning doves thrive in open areas that offer a mix of trees, shrubs, and grasses. They are commonly found in fields, meadows, agricultural areas, and even suburban gardens. These open spaces provide the perfect combination of food sources and shelter for the birds.

  • Food Sources: Open land provides mourning doves with access to their primary food source: seeds. They feed on a variety of seeds from grasses, weeds, and agricultural crops. The presence of open land ensures a steady supply of seeds for them to eat.
  • Shelter: Trees and shrubs play a vital role in providing shelter for mourning doves. They seek out areas with scattered trees or shrubs where they can perch and rest. These perches also serve as lookout points for predators, allowing the doves to stay safe while feeding on the ground.
  • Nesting Sites: Mourning doves prefer to nest in trees or shrubs located near open spaces. They build flimsy nests made of twigs and grasses in the branches or forks of trees, as well as on ledges, fences, or even human-made structures like window sills or light fixtures.

By creating an open area in your backyard with a mix of trees, shrubs, and grasses, you can provide an ideal habitat for mourning doves. Consider planting native plants that produce seeds favored by these birds to ensure a steady food supply. Additionally, leaving patches of bare ground or providing clean water sources like birdbaths can further attract mourning doves to your yard.

Remember that offering suitable nesting sites is essential for attracting breeding pairs of mourning doves. Installing nest boxes or platforms specifically designed for these birds, as detailed in this resource on landscaping and gardening for birds, can provide them with safe places to raise their young.

2. Sleep Sites during Winter


In the winter months, suitable sleep sites are crucial for mourning doves as they seek shelter and protection from the harsh weather conditions. These sleep sites serve as safe havens where mourning doves can rest and conserve energy during the night, ensuring their survival through the colder seasons.

Importance of Suitable Sleep Sites:

  1. Survival: The availability of appropriate sleep sites is essential for the survival of mourning doves during winter.
  2. Protection: These sites offer protection from low temperatures and predators, contributing to the overall well-being of the doves.

Mourning doves often choose dense coniferous trees or evergreen shrubs as their preferred sleep sites because these plants provide effective cover from the elements. The thick leaves and branches act as a barrier against wind and cold, creating a relatively insulated environment for the doves to roost.

These sleep sites are also carefully selected in areas that minimize exposure to harsh weather conditions like strong winds and heavy snowfall. By finding such sheltered spots, mourning doves can keep their bodies warm and prevent heat loss, increasing their chances of surviving during difficult winter nights.

Understanding how important suitable sleep sites are in the winter habitat of mourning doves helps us appreciate their ability to adapt and thrive in different seasons.

Nesting Habits: A Closer Look at Their Reproductive Behavior


1. Unusual Locations and Use of Man-Made Objects

Mourning doves are known for their adaptability in choosing nesting locations, often favoring unique spots such as window sills, hanging plants, or even outdoor light fixtures. The flexibility in their nesting habits allows mourning doves to thrive in various environments, including urban areas where man-made structures are prevalent. These birds demonstrate a remarkable ability to coexist with human activity, incorporating man-made objects like balconies or building ledges into their nesting sites.

By showcasing adaptability and resourcefulness in their choice of nesting locations, mourning doves have successfully expanded their habitat range to include both natural and human-influenced environments.

Timing of the Breeding Season


Mourning doves have specific nesting habits and breeding seasons that contribute to their unique characteristics. Here is an overview of the timing of the breeding season for mourning doves:

  • Mourning doves typically begin their breeding season in the early spring, around March or April, depending on geographic location and climate. This is when the days start to lengthen, providing more daylight for the birds' activities.
  • The breeding season lasts throughout the spring and summer months, with peak activity occurring during May and June. During this time, mourning doves are most active in seeking mates, building nests, and laying eggs.
  • Female mourning doves are responsible for choosing a suitable nesting site. They often select unusual locations, including man-made objects such as hanging planters, window ledges, or even abandoned bird nests from other species. These locations provide protection and camouflage for their nests.
  • Once a suitable nesting site is found, mourning doves will construct a flimsy nest made of twigs, grass, weeds, and other materials. The male may assist in gathering nesting materials but it is primarily the female's responsibility.
  • After the nest is built, the female will lay one or two white eggs. Mourning doves typically lay one egg per day until they have completed their clutch. The number of clutches per breeding season varies based on factors such as food availability and weather conditions.
  • The incubation period for mourning dove eggs is around 14 days. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, with each parent spending about 6 hours at a time on the nest before switching off.
  • Once the eggs hatch, both parents share the responsibility of feeding and caring for the chicks. Mourning dove chicks grow rapidly and are ready to leave the nest after about 12 to 14 days.

Understanding the timing of the breeding season gives us valuable insights into mourning dove behavior and their reproductive cycle. It allows bird enthusiasts to observe and appreciate these fascinating birds during the peak breeding season when they are most active.

The Art of Nest Building: Materials and Characteristics

When it comes to nesting, mourning doves show remarkable resourcefulness and creativity. They construct their nests using a variety of materials found in their environment. Let's take a closer look at the materials and characteristics that make up a typical mourning dove nest.

1. Twigs, Grass, Weeds, and Other Components

A common sight in a mourning dove nest is the abundant use of twigs. These slender branches are essential for providing structure and stability to the nest. Mourning doves carefully select twigs that are strong enough to withstand the weight of the eggs and future chicks.

Grass is another key component used by mourning doves in nest building. They weave grass strands between the twigs to create a cozy and comfortable interior for their offspring. The softness of the grass provides insulation and protection against the elements.

Weeds also play a role in the construction process. Mourning doves often incorporate weed stems into their nests, further enhancing their durability. These stems add an extra layer of strength to support the weight of growing chicks.

In addition to these primary materials, mourning doves may use other components they find in their surroundings. This can include small leaves, root fibers, or even bits of human-made objects like string or paper if available.

The choice of materials used by mourning doves reflects their adaptability and ability to work with what is readily accessible in their habitat. By utilizing twigs, grass, weeds, and other components, these birds create nests that are both functional and protective. 

Lightly Built Nests and Nest Placement

One notable characteristic of mourning dove nests is their light construction. Unlike some other bird species that build bulky nests, mourning doves opt for a more minimalist approach. Their nests are relatively shallow and loosely put together.

This lightweight design serves a purpose - it allows for better air circulation around the eggs and nestlings. The loosely woven twigs and grasses create gaps that help regulate temperature and prevent moisture buildup.

Nest placement is another important consideration for mourning doves. They typically choose locations that provide camouflage and protection. Mourning doves often select tree branches, shrubs, or even human-made structures like window ledges or hanging baskets as nesting sites. These elevated positions offer a level of security from predators while still allowing easy access for the adult birds.

By carefully selecting materials and strategically placing their nests, mourning doves demonstrate their adaptability and ingenuity as nest builders.

2. Lightly Built Nests and Nest Placement

The structure of mourning dove nests is unique and distinct from other bird species. These nests are lightly built and often appear flimsy, but they serve their purpose well. Here are some key points about the construction and placement of dove nests:

Materials used in the construction

Mourning doves primarily use twigs, grass, and weeds to build their nests. These materials are woven together to form a loose and open structure that allows for ventilation.

Distinctive traits

The lightly built nature of dove nests serves a specific purpose. It allows air to circulate through the nest, keeping it cool during hot weather. Additionally, the loose structure provides flexibility, enabling the nest to expand as the chicks grow.

Visibility of eggs from below

Mourning doves place their nests on horizontal branches or in the forks of trees. The open design of the nest allows for easy visibility of the eggs from below. This may serve as a defense mechanism, as predators can easily spot any potential threats to the eggs.

Height from the ground

Dove nests are typically located at a height of 5 to 25 feet above the ground. This height provides protection against ground-dwelling predators such as cats and rodents.

The unique characteristics of mourning dove nests demonstrate their adaptability to different environments. By constructing lightly built nests with visible eggs, mourning doves ensure maximum protection for their offspring while also allowing for efficient airflow within the nest. The strategic placement of these nests at an elevated height further enhances their safety.

From Eggs to Chicks: Reproduction and Early Development Stages


Mourning doves, like many other bird species, go through a fascinating reproductive process that involves egg laying, incubation, and the development of their chicks. Let's take a closer look at this journey from eggs to chicks:

1. White Eggs and Length of Incubation Period

Mourning dove eggs are known for their distinctive white coloration. This characteristic sets them apart from the eggs of many other bird species, which often have speckles or vibrant colors. The white color of mourning dove eggs may help camouflage them against the light-colored nest materials, making it more difficult for predators to spot them.

The incubation period for mourning dove eggs is typically around 14 days. During this time, the parent birds take turns sitting on the eggs to maintain a consistent temperature and ensure proper development.

Fun Fact: The white color of mourning dove eggs is thought to be an adaptation that helps regulate the temperature inside the egg. By reflecting sunlight, white eggs can stay cooler in hot weather, preventing overheating.

2. Nestling Phase and Number of Broods Raised per Season

Once the eggs hatch, baby mourning doves, known as nestlings, enter the world. The nestlings are initially blind and featherless, relying on their parents for warmth and nourishment. Over time, they grow rapidly and develop feathers. The nestling phase typically lasts around 12 to 14 days before the young doves leave the nest.

Did You Know? Mourning doves are capable of having multiple broods in a single breeding season. This means that after raising one set of offspring, they may go on to lay more eggs and start another brood. This ability to produce multiple broods in a season allows mourning doves to increase their chances of passing on their genes successfully.

Understanding the reproductive cycle of mourning doves provides a deeper appreciation for these incredible birds. From the pure white eggs to the growth and development of their young, each stage of the process is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of these birds.

2. Nestling Phase and Number of Broods Raised per Season

The nestling phase for baby doves typically lasts for about 12 to 14 days from hatching to fledging. During this time, the parents diligently care for the chicks, providing them with regurgitated food containing crop milk, a highly nutritious substance that aids in their rapid growth and development.

Mourning doves are known for their ability to raise multiple broods in a single breeding season, especially in regions with longer warm periods. This means that after successfully raising one brood of chicks, they may proceed to build another nest and reproduce again within the same season. This adaptability and high reproductive potential contribute to the widespread presence of mourning doves across various habitats.

The ability to raise multiple broods in a season allows mourning doves to significantly contribute to their population numbers. It also demonstrates their resilience and adaptability to changing environmental conditions, making them a fascinating subject for bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Dietary Preferences: What Do Mourning Doves Eat?


Mourning doves have specific feeding habits that are essential to their survival. Understanding their dietary preferences can help create a suitable habitat and provide the necessary food sources for these beautiful birds. Here are some key points to consider:

1. Field Waste Grain and Seed Diet

Mourning doves primarily feed on a variety of seeds, with field waste grain being a crucial part of their diet. These birds are known to forage in open areas such as agricultural fields, where they search for fallen or leftover grains from crops like corn, wheat, and soybeans. The availability of these food sources greatly impacts mourning dove populations.

In addition to field waste grain, mourning doves also consume a wide range of other seeds. They have been observed feeding on seeds from plants such as sunflowers, ragweed, pigweed, smartweed, and foxtail. These birds are opportunistic feeders and will exploit any available seed sources in their environment.

Seeds are the primary component of a mourning dove's diet. However, they also eat small amounts of insects during the breeding season to supplement their protein intake.

2. Attracting Mourning Doves to Your Backyard

To attract mourning doves to your backyard, consider the following tips:

  1. Install a bird feeder: Use a bird feeder specifically designed for mourning doves and fill it with a mix of seeds such as cracked corn, millet, and sunflower seeds.
  2. Create an open habitat: Design your backyard with open spaces and plantings that produce seeds. Native grasses and wildflowers can be beneficial in providing additional food sources for these birds.
  3. Avoid using pesticides: Minimize the use of pesticides in your garden as they can harm both insects (a food source for mourning doves) and the birds themselves.

By understanding the dietary preferences of mourning doves and taking steps to provide the appropriate food sources, you can create an inviting environment that will attract these graceful birds to your backyard.

2. Transition from Pigeon Milk to Adult Food Sources

Mourning doves have a unique feeding habit that involves the production of "pigeon milk," a nutrient-rich secretion in the crops of both parent birds. This pigeon milk is regurgitated and fed to the young chicks during their early days. As the chicks grow, they start transitioning to a diet of adult food sources, marking an important stage in their development.

Pigeon Milk

Initially, mourning dove chicks rely solely on pigeon milk for their nutrition. This substance is rich in protein and fat, providing essential nutrients for the rapid growth and development of the young birds.

Transition to Adult Food

Gradually, as the chicks mature, they begin to explore their surroundings and pick at seeds and grains on the ground. This marks the transition from dependency on pigeon milk to independent foraging for adult food sources. To aid this transition, it's important for bird enthusiasts who want to attract mourning doves to provide suitable feeding areas with an ample supply of seeds and grains.

Foraging Skills

The process of learning to find and consume adult food enhances the chicks' foraging skills and independence. They observe and mimic their parents' feeding behaviors, gradually becoming proficient at gathering their own meals.

This transition period is crucial for the young mourning doves as it prepares them for survival in the wild. It also signifies a significant milestone in their growth and development, equipping them with essential skills for self-sufficiency.

Survival Challenges for Mourning Doves

Mourning Dove Nesting Stats
Eggs1 - 2
Incubation14 - 15 days
Nestling Phase12- 14 days
Broods2 - 3

Mourning doves face various survival challenges in their natural habitat:

1. Predators

  • Common predators such as hawks, owls, and snakes pose a significant threat to adult mourning doves.
  • Raccoons, squirrels, and other small mammals may prey on their eggs and nestlings.
  • Domestic cats are known to be a major threat to mourning doves, especially around residential areas.

2. Nest Abandonment

  • Nest abandonment is another risk faced by mourning doves.
  • It is often caused by human disturbances or the presence of predators near their nesting sites.
  • The fragile nature of their nests makes them vulnerable to damage from inclement weather conditions such as heavy rain or strong winds.

3. Reproductive Success and Lifespan

  • In the wild, mourning doves have an average lifespan of 1-3 years.
  • However, due to predation and other environmental factors, many doves may not reach their maximum lifespan.
  • Despite these challenges, mourning doves exhibit remarkable reproductive success.
  • Females lay multiple clutches of eggs throughout the breeding season.
  • This high reproductive output helps sustain their population despite the threats they encounter in their environment.

Creating a Dove-Friendly Environment in Your Backyard

Valuable tips for providing nesting opportunities and a suitable habitat for mourning doves in residential areas:

1. Encouraging Dove Nesting

  • Placing nesting shelves in suitable locations can encourage mourning doves to nest in your backyard. These shelves should be positioned under the eaves of a house or a covered patio, providing protection from the elements.
  • Ensure that the nesting shelf is placed away from areas with high human activity, providing the doves with a sense of safety and security.

2. Nesting Shelf

  • Construct or purchase a nesting shelf specifically designed for mourning doves. This will provide an ideal platform for them to build their nests, mimicking their natural nesting preferences.
  • The platform should be approximately 8x8 inches to accommodate the size of a typical dove nest.

3. Semi-Shaded Area

  • Create semi-shaded areas in your backyard by strategically planting trees or installing structures that provide dappled sunlight. Mourning doves prefer these types of environments for nesting and roosting.
  • Avoid densely shaded areas, as they may deter mourning doves from choosing your backyard as a nesting site.

By implementing these strategies, you can significantly increase the likelihood of attracting mourning doves to nest in your backyard. This not only enhances your bird-watching experience but also contributes to the conservation of these beautiful birds.

Personal Encounters with Mourning Doves: Stories from Bird Enthusiasts

When it comes to mourning doves, bird enthusiasts have witnessed some truly remarkable sights and experiences. Here are a few shared stories of encounters with mourning doves in unexpected locations and heartwarming accounts of rescuing injured or orphaned doves:

1. Dove Nesting in Unusual Places:

  • One birdwatcher recalls finding a mourning dove nest nestled in the wreath on their front door. Despite the constant opening and closing of the door, the dove pair successfully raised their chicks.
  • Another enthusiast discovered a dove's nest perched on top of a porch light fixture. The birds seemed undisturbed by the regular use of the light and went on to raise a healthy brood.
  • A particularly memorable encounter involved a mourning dove building its nest on a window ledge right outside an office building. Employees were captivated by the sight and eagerly observed the dove's progress throughout the nesting season.

2. Rescued Doves:

  • A kind-hearted individual stumbled upon an injured mourning dove while walking through a park. They carefully picked up the injured bird and brought it to a local wildlife rehabilitation center, where it received medical care and eventually made a full recovery.
  • In another instance, someone found an abandoned mourning dove chick on their property. They took it in, providing warmth, food, and care until it was old enough to be released back into the wild.

These personal stories highlight the adaptability and resilience of mourning doves, as well as the compassion of individuals who go out of their way to ensure their well-being. It's these interactions with nature that remind us of the beauty and wonder that can be found right in our own backyards.

Appreciating the Beauty and Resilience of Mourning Doves

After learning about how mourning doves build nests, lay eggs, and find food, we can see that these birds are truly amazing. Here are some final thoughts on their behavior and how we can help protect them:

1. Admiring their beauty

Mourning doves may not stand out with their looks, but their soft gray feathers and delicate features have a simple beauty. Take a moment to admire their unique charm as they sit on branches or glide gracefully through the air.

2. Recognizing their resilience

Even though mourning doves face many challenges in their surroundings, like losing their homes and being hunted by predators, they have adapted remarkably well. Their ability to make nests in different places and raise several groups of chicks in one season shows how tough they are as a species.

3. Creating suitable habitats

You can help support mourning dove populations by making spaces that are good for them in your own backyard. Here's what you can do:

  • Have open areas with trees and bushes where they can build nests and find food.
  • Provide sources of food like leftover grains from fields or bird seeds.

4. Contributing to conservation efforts

Giving support to groups that work hard to protect birds can also make a difference. By giving money or offering your time as a volunteer, you can help keep not just mourning doves safe but also other bird types that live in similar places.

In conclusion, the way mourning doves build nests, lay eggs, and find food gives us a peek into the interesting lives of these lovely birds. By understanding what makes them special and taking action to help them thrive, we can make sure that future generations get to see mourning doves around us too.

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