Our Bird Neighbors – Mourning Dove

(Zenaidura maaroura)

Called also: CAROLINA DOVE ; TURTLE DOVE Length—12 to 13 inches.

Male—Grayish brown or fawn color above, varying to bluish gray. Crown and upper part of head greenish blue, with green and golden metallic reflections on sides of neck. A black spot under each ear. Forehead and breast reddish buff ; lighter underneath. (General impression of color, bluish fawn.) Bill black, with tumid, fleshy covering; feet red; two middle tail feathers longest; all others banded with black and tipped with ashy white. Wing coverts sparsely spotted with black. Flanks and underneath the wings bluish.

Female—Duller and without iridescent reflections on neck.

Range—North America, from Quebec to Panama, and westward to Arizona. Most common in temperate climate, east of Rocky Mountains.

Season—March to November. Common summer resident ; not migratory south of Virginia.

The beautiful, soft colored plumage of this incessant and rather melancholy love-maker is not on public exhibition. To see it we must trace the a-coo-o, coo-o, coo-oo, coo-o to its source in the thick foliage in some tree in an out-of-the-way corner of the farm, or to an evergreen near the edge of the woods. The slow, plaintive notes, more like a dirge than a love song, penetrate to a surprising distance. They may not always be the same lovers we hear from April to the end of summer, but surely the sound seems to indicate that they are. The dove is a shy bird, attached to its gentle and refined mate with a devotion that has passed into a proverb, but caring little or nothing for the society of other feathered friends, and very little for its own kind, unless after the nesting season has passed. In this respect it differs widely from its cousins, the wild pigeons, flocks of which, numbering many millions, are recorded by Wilson and other early writers before the days when netting these birds became so fatally profitable.

What the dove finds to ardently adore in the “shiftless housewife,” as Mrs. Wright calls his lady-love, must pass the comprehension of the phoebe, which constructs such an exquisite home, or of a bustling, energetic Jenny Wren, that ” looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness.” She is a flabby, spineless bundle of flesh and pretty feathers, gentle and refined in manners, but slack and incompetent in all she does. Her nest consists of a few loose sticks, without rim or lining ; and when her two babies emerge from the white eggs, that somehow do not fall through or roll out of the rickety lattice, their tender little naked bodies must suffer from many bruises. We are almost inclined to blame the inconsiderate mother for allowing her offspring to enter the world unclothed—obviously not her fault, though she is capable of just such negligence. Fortunate are the baby doves when their lazy mother scatters her makeshift nest on top of one that a robin has deserted, as she frequently does. It is almost excusable to take her young birds and rear them in captivity, where they invariably thrive, mate, and live happily, unless death comes to one, when the other often refuses food and grieves its life away.

In the wild state, when the nesting season approaches, both birds make curious acrobatic flights above the tree-tops; then, after a short sail in midair, they return to their perch. This appears to be their only giddiness and frivolity, unless a dust-bath in the country road might be considered a dissipation.

In the autumn a few pairs of doves show slight gregarious tendencies, feeding amiably together in the grain fields and retiring to the same roost at sundown.