The Mourning Dove
Nature Bulletin No. 691 October 27, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist
THE MOURNING DOVE
One of the familiar voices of an American spring is a low-pitched,
moaning ooah, cooo, cooo, coo that sounds as if someone were blowing
across the mouth of a jug. Like the work of an expert ventriloquist, it
seems to come from one direction, then another until, with a whistle of
wings, a bird clad in soft colors flashes away.
The mourning dove -- commonly called turtle dove -- has a light brown
head and back but the neck and breast shimmer like watered silk with
tints of rose, lavender and tan. The feathers of the long sharp tail are
tipped with white. The beak is black and the feet are red. The bird has
long pointed wings and is streamlined for speed. The sexes are much
alike and average about four ounces in weight. The male puffs out his
chest and does all the cooing.
The nest is an unlined platform of twigs built at any height from ground
level to the tops of the tallest trees, and so flimsy that the eggs can often
be seen from below. The two creamy white eggs are incubated by both
parents, with the male taking the day shift from about 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
and the female the rest of the time. This schedule allows each to find
food and water. The eggs hatch on the 14th day.
At first the young are fed on "pigeon milk", a cheesy liquid secreted by
the throats and crops of the parents and pumped into the young. When
their bills are interlocked, the young bird's mouth pops open and it
starts to swallow. Soon the diet of pigeon milk is replaced by seeds
regurgitated from the crops of the parents. The fledglings are fully
grown and leave the nest by the time they are two weeks old. The same
parents may hatch two, occasionally three, and rarely four broods of
young before the summer is over.
After leaving the nest the young remain with their parents for about ten
days while they learn to feed themselves and find their way to water.
They gather into flocks and, by July, start to migrate southward. Here in
Illinois the adults usually linger until September or October and a few,
perhaps only one in a hundred, stay all winter.
The mourning dove nests from southern Canada to Mexico and in all of
the 48 states between. In winter they are concentrated from our Gulf
states southward through the West Indies and Mexico to Central
America. It is an All-American bird.
The dove is strictly a seed eater -- about two-thirds weed seeds and one-
third waste grain from farmers' fields. The food left behind by the
mechanical corn picker makes it one of the dove's best friends.
Late each afternoon, doves habitually make a trip for a drink of water --
often flying as much as five miles to get it. Pioneers crossing the
western plains where water was scarce learned to find it by following
their flight. Unlike most birds that dip their beaks and then raise their
heads to let the water trickle down their throats, doves and pigeons
drink like a youngster sucking pop through a straw.
Ironically, this little symbol of peace and gentleness is hunted as a game
bird in 31 states. In most of the others it is regarded as a songbird and
protected at all times. Where shooting is permitted, it is regulated by
both federal and state laws. The 1962 rules for dove hunting in Illinois
are typical. The open season is September 1st through November 9th,
from noon C. S. T. until sunset. The daily limit is twelve birds. They
may not be hunted over baited ground nor with any gun except with a
shotgun. A tricky swift-flying target, the dove challenges the skill of the
early autumn hunter. The annual kill in Illinois is roughly a half million.
Next, we can expect an open season on dragonflies.
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Update: June 2012