Mourning doves are a member of the Family Columbidae. They have a small head and pointed tail, presenting a streamlined appearance. Flight is direct and rapid. The wing beat usually produces a characteristic whistling noise, especially when doves are flushed. Males are slightly larger than females, but there is no noticeable difference in coloration between the sexes. Mourning doves are slate-brown on their upper body and rufous tan on their breasts and underside. They have a black spot behind and below the eye, a black bill, red or pink legs, and white-tipped tail feathers. Male doves can most easily be identified by their 5-7 note coo call during spring and summer.
Mourning doves breed from the southern portion of Canada, throughout the continental US, Mexico, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, and scattered locations in Central America.
Habitat: Mourning doves are very adaptable in habitat selection. They prefer open woodlands and prairie communities, but can be found in many urban settings as well. Humans have greatly modified the landscape for doves through our agricultural practices and urban development. Waste grains and weed seeds associated with farming practices have become important food sources. Planting of windbreaks and the need for stock ponds provides additional nesting habitat and an important water source. Ornamental trees planted in cities and towns have also increased the amount of nesting and roosting habitat for mourning doves.
Diet: Doves are primarily seedeaters. More than 99% of their diet is composed of weed seeds and grains. Preferred weed seeds include, pigweed, foxtails, wild sunflower, and ragweed. Doves also feed on grains like sorghum, sunflower, millet, and wheat. Insects typically make up less than 1% of the dove diet. Daily feeding movements of young and adults average 2-8 miles and they require a daily supply of water.
Reproduction: Mourning doves are monogamous birds. A pair typically produces a clutch of 2 eggs in a relatively insubstantial nest made of twigs and grass. Most doves nest in trees, however ground nesting is also important. Doves may bring off 2-3 broods per season in the northern portion of their range; and in an average year half to two-thirds of the nests initiated are successful. In portions of their range research has shown doves can increase their population 3-fold in a single breeding season.
Incubation lasts approximately two weeks and both parents share in the duties of incubating the eggs and feeding the young doves or squab. Males usually incubate during the day, females at night. Squabs hatch featherless (they are altricial) and grow rapidly, increasing in weight 14 times by 15 days of age. Young are initially fed crop milk, a fatty substance produced in the crop of adults. Adults regurgitate the milk and feed to their young. It is extremely rich in protein and fats and is gradually replaced by seeds as a preferred food source as the young grow. The squabs leave the nest (fledge) 14-15 days after hatching, at which time their diet is nearly identical to that of adults. They can survive on their own 5-9 days after leaving the nest but are normally fed by the male until they are about 4 weeks of age. The entire nesting cycle requires 30-32 days and adults may begin a new nest 2-5 days after fledging. The adult male continues to feed fledglings during the primary stages of the succeeding nesting attempt.
Most doves migrate south as the weather turns cooler, so the best time to hunt is early on in the season.
During the autumn months, dove habitat preferences are determined by food availability and roosting cover. Flocks move between roost sites (typically wind breaks or trees in riparian areas) and specific food sites (typically millet, sunflower or wheat fields) until the food is gone.
Doves also require water on a daily basis and are found in association with weedy patches.
Doves fly rapidly so a substantial lead is necessary. Distances can be deceiving! A good rule of thumb is if you can see their eyes they are in range.
Be careful not to confuse doves with kestrels, nighthawks, swallows or other pointed-winged birds. These birds can not be legally hunted.
Season: Please refer to the Small Game Season dates