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Desert Wildlife > Birds:

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura
Family: Columbidae Order: Columbiformes Class: Aves


Common in a variety of habitats throughout the state, including croplands, pastures and other grasslands, open chaparral, Great Basin and desert habitats, open hardwood, hardwood-conifer, riparian, and low-elevation conifer. There is a general movement in fall and winter from northern latitudes. These movements are especially noticeable in northeastern California and in the northern sections of the southern deserts. Much less common in winter in cold parts of the state.


Feeding: Feeds almost entirely on seeds of cereal grains, forbs, and grasses; occasionally on snails in spring; less often on insects. Obtains food from ground by pecking. For details see Browning (1959, 1962) and Grenfell et al. (1980).

Cover: Cover is provided by trees and shrubs and woodland and forest stands.

Reproduction: Nest is a loose platform of twigs on a horizontal limb or in crotch of tree, old bird nest, or (rarely) on the ground. Nests in conifers and deciduous trees. Nest height usually 1-6 m (3-20 ft) above ground.

Water: Drinks water once or twice daily (Grinnell and Miller 1944).

Pattern: Open woodlands, grasslands, croplands, and deserts all provide adequate habitat. Requires a water source nearby.


Activity Patterns: Yearlong, diurnal activity.

Seasonal Movements/Migration: Resident throughout the state except at highest elevations. There is downslope movement in fall, and upslope movement in spring, in the major mountain ranges of the state. Also a general movement south from northern latitudes in fall from north of California, within the state, and into Mexico.

Home Range: In Missouri, Tomlinson et al. (1960) reported most feeding within 1.6 km (1 mi) of nests, indicating a home range of no more than 10 km˛ (4 mi˛).

Territory: Territory 64-91 m (210-300 ft) in diameter in a moderately dense population in urban Missouri (Jackson and Baskett 1964). In Ohio, Mackey (1954) found average diameter of nesting territory to be 30 m (100 ft). In California, 3 to more than 40 pairs nest per 40 ha (100 ac) in valley foothill hardwood and valley foothill riparian habitats (VanVelzen 1974). Feeds outside nesting territory.

Reproduction: Breeds mostly from late January to late September (peak in May and June); in California can breed almost all year, depending on weather (Nice 1923). Raises 2-6 broods a year. Almost invariably lays 2 eggs per clutch (range 1-3). Usually breeds solitarily, but sometimes more than 1 nest in same tree. Male incubates much of day and female at night, for 14-15 days. Young fed seeds and crop milk by both adults during nestling period of 13-15 days (VanVelzen 1974).

Niche: Adults or eggs preyed upon by domestic cats, falcons and accipiters, snakes, and small mammals. Infection by Trichomonas, a protozoan, may be a significant mortality factor (Rue 1973).


Bent, A. C. 1932. Life histories of North American gallinaceous birds. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 162. 490pp.

Browning, B. M. 1959. An ecological study of the food habits of the mourning dove. Calif. Fish and Game 45:313-331.

Browning, B. M. 1962. Food habits of the mourning dove in California. Calif. Fish and Game 48:91-115.

Cowan, J. B. 1952. Life history and productivity of a population of western mourning doves in California. Calif. Fish and Game 38:505-521.

Garrett, K., and J. Dunn. 1981. Birds of southern California. Los Angeles Audubon Soc. 408pp.

Grenfell, W. E., B. M. Browning, and W. E. Stienecker. 1980. Food habits of California upland game birds. Calif. Dep. Fish and Game, Sacramento. Wildl. Manage. Br. Admin. Rep. No. 80-1. 130pp.

Grinnell, J., and A. H. Miller. 1944. The distribution of the birds of California. Pac. Coast Avifauna No. 27. 608pp.

Hanson, H. D., and C. W. Kossack. 1963. The mourning dove in Illinois. III. Dep. Conserv., Springfield Tech. Bull. 2. 133pp.

Harris, S. W., M. A. Morse, and W. H. Longley. 1963. Nesting and production of the mourning dove in Minnesota. Am. Midl. Nat. 69:150-172.

Jackson, G. L., and T. S. Baskett. 1964. Perch-cooing and other aspects of breeding behavior of mourning doves. J. Widl. Manage. 28:293-307.

Lund, J. V. 1952. Nesting activities of eastern mourning dove in southern Michigan. M.S. Thesis, Michigan State Univ., East Lansing. 54pp.

Mackey, J. P. 1954. Some aspects of mourning dove behavior related to reproduction. M.S. Thesis, Ohio State Univ., Columbus. 101pp.

McClure, H. E. 1950. An eleven year summary of mourning dove observations in the west. Trans. North Am. Wildl. Conf. 15:335-345.

Nelson, M. L. 1971. The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) U.S. Dep. Inter., Washington DC. Off. Libr. Serv. 29pp.

Nice, M. M. 1923. A study of nesting mourning doves (Part 2). Auk 40:37-58.

Rue, L. L., III. 1973. Game birds of North America. Harper and Row, New York. 490pp.

Swank, W. G. 1955. Nesting and productivity of the mourning dove in Texas. Ecology 36:495-505.

Tomlinson, R. E., and R. L. Todd. 1973. Distribution of two western clapper rail races as determined by responses to taped calls. Condor 75:177-183.

Tomlinson, R. E., H. M. Wight, and T. S. Baskett. 1960. Migratonal homing, local movement, and mortality of mourning doves in Missouri. Trans. North Am. Wildl. and Nat Resour. Conf. 25:253-267.

Van Velzen, W. T., ed. 1974. Thirty-eighth breeding bird census. Am. Birds 28:987-1054.2.

California Department of Fish and Game. California Interagency Wildlife Task Group. 2005. California Wildlife Habitat Relationships version 8.1 personal computer program. Sacramento, California.

Mourning Dove

The Mourning Dove diet consists of mainly small dry seeds, forcing a dependance on drinking water throughout the year. However, with their strong ability to fly they do not need to stay near waterholes. Doves drink continuously, by sucking and swallowing, up to six times faster than other birds, reducing the time required at available water. This is important as most predators are known to ambush their prey while drinking.

Also see > Bird: Prey: Herbivore: Diurnal

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