By Cheryl Conley, TWRC Wildlife Center
The mourning dove is native to Texas and gets its name from the soft, sad-sounding coo that usually only the male makes. What you may not know is that the mourning dove also has a non-verbal whistling sound it makes when it takes off and lands. This sound is an alarm signal and is also associated with courtship. They are one of the most abundant birds of all North American birds.
Doves are highly-developed and range in size from a sparrow to a chicken. Mourning doves are one of seven species of doves in our area. The others are the white-winged dove, the white-tipped dove, the erasian collared, the rock dove (pigeon), the band-tailed pigeon, the inca dove and the common ground dove. Some of them, like the mourning dove, are monogamous. That means they’ll stay with their mate for life unless something happens to the mate. If that happens, the mourning dove will find a replacement.
Mourning doves are recognizable by black spots on brown wings, a black beak, black eyes and a long, pointed tail. They look somewhat plump with a small head that looks a little too small for the size of the body.
You might catch a glimpse of a mourning dove on the ground or on a limb, leaning over and stretching one wing. The bird is either sunbathing or rainbathing. It can hold this position for up to twenty minutes. They also like to dustbathe.
Their diet consists mostly of seeds. They have a preference for rapeseed, corn, millet, safflower, and sunflower seeds. They eat until their crops are full and then fly away to digest the food. They’ll often swallow sand or fine gravel to aid in digestion.
Doves are the number one game bird in the country and Texas leads the nation in hunter and harvest humbers. Every year from June to August, Texas Parks and Wildlife place leg bands on thousands of mourning and white-winged doves. The primary reason for banding is to track the harvest. This is done in order to monitor the factors that influence the populations. Hunters report banded birds and the information gathered provides estimates of harvest and survival rates. The data is used in several programs to help manage populations and set hunting regulations. Hunters are urged to report any bands they find.
Here are a few very interesting facts about this very common bird.
- They have a very short life span. They usually only live about 1.5 years. The oldest recorded age of a mourning dove is 31.
- They are one of only a few birds that can actually sip water like humans. Most birds gulp water and then rotate their heads until the water goes down their throats.
- Many of them lay eggs several times a year.
- Mourning doves can fly up to 55mph. Compare that to a Northern Flicker that weighs about the same but can only fly 23 mph.
- Another name used for mourning doves is turtle doves.
TWRC admits hundreds of injured, orphaned and displaced doves every year. Some have dog and cat wounds, some have had collisions with windows, or have fallen out of a nest. Whatever the reason for their admission, we care for them until they are able to be returned to the wild. If you’d like more information about what we do, check out our website at www.twrcwildlifecenter.org.