Mourning Dove Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s species dossier features a bird that is familiar and common. Over the course of my developing this dossier (established in the mid-1980’s) there seems to have been a change, with mourning doves wintering this far north with increasing frequency.

Dove, Mourning

Mourning dove

Mourning dove

Mourning doves usually live in open areas with some trees. In winter, they sometimes roost in thick evergreen plantations. They feed on the ground, picking up seeds. Nesting begins early in spring (March), with adults’ walking around, picking up sticks the first sign. Usually the first nest is in the branches of a conifer; subsequent nests may be in deciduous trees. The nest is a flimsy, loose platform of sticks. Two eggs almost always complete the clutch. Both adults incubate; early morning is a common switching time. The call is a mournful “cooweeoo, coo, coo-coo” (“bachelor song,” after literature). They produce a loud whistling of wings in flight. Generally they are not seen in northeast Illinois in winter, though occasional adults stick it out around feeders in Culver, Indiana. (Some were present all winter of 1998-9 at Willowbrook). There is a distinctive pumping of the head while walking. Mourning doves were very common in Texas, in brushlands, mountains and desert.

Mourning dove fledglings. This species lays 2 eggs per clutch.

Mourning dove fledglings. This species lays 2 eggs per clutch.

Late MY90, Hartz Lake. A mourning dove singing his bachelor song low in a tree flew off in a startle as a female sharp-shin landed in the same tree. The dove stayed within tree canopies as it flew.

27JA97. Morning. Snow fairly deep. A red-tailed hawk flew over the College of DuPage parking lot with something in its talons, pursued by half a dozen crows. The hawk perched on a flat-topped, wooden light pole and began plucking prey while crows sporadically left nearby perches and swooped at it. After 10-15 minutes it flew away, and I checked the feathers, which were scattered in singles and small clumps over a 20×30 foot area: mourning dove. Crow calls resembled owl mobbing, but smaller number of birds and less sustained.


11MR99. First “bachelor calls” of the season at Willowbrook.

31OC01. At least 20 mourning doves, more than I have seen together in months in northeast Illinois, at a savanna area in the Nelson Lake property, Kane Co.


18FE05. First bachelor calls of the season, Winfield Mounds.

Mourning dove incubating its nest

Mourning dove incubating its nest

30MR09. Mayslake. A pair of mourning doves has a nest in a spruce in front of the mansion. (This nest later was abandoned, possibly because of the heavy human traffic that was passing close by).


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