The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mourning Doves are Common and Widespread
by Ro Wauer

Almost everyone knows the mourning dove. It is one of our most abundant birds, residing in the countryside as well as in our towns and cities. It can be found in every county in Texas. Although mourning doves are readily spooked when approached, they seem to have a strange affinity for humans. Part of that behavior is related to their attraction to seed feeders that we humans place out for songbirds, but they also are known to move from their preferred habitats in the countryside into towns during hunting seasons.

Mourning doves are easily recognized by their plumage color and shape. They are gray-brown color with a scattering of dark spots on the wings and with a pale breast and belly. They possess a small head and reasonably thin neck, and have a long, tapered tail with white edges. And they also have a distinct flight that is strong and swift and produces a noticeable whistling sound. And taking flight or landing they usually will lift their tail up and back down.

During the nesting season, according to Kent Rylander’s “The Behavior of Texas Birds,” “males will often glide over their mates in a spiral pattern, and he also will strut before her with spread feathers while nodding his head. The pair frequently preens each other.” Nests usually are place in the fork of a horizontal tree limb, but they also nest directly on the ground or on various structures such as houses or barns. The courting male will lead his mate “to several sites before choosing the one she prefers, where she builds a flimsy platform of sticks.” There she will lay three or four eggs that are incubated by both sexes. Upon egg-hatching “both parents feed crop milk to the nestlings.” Fledging occurs in about two weeks, and then the family will join other families to form rather large flocks. Those flocks will usually stay together until the next breeding season.

Although mourning doves are far and away our most abundant dove, six additional doves or pigeons (members of the same family) occur in our region. Two are much smaller: Inca doves possess a scaly plumage and long tail, and usually are present around our homes. Common ground-doves lack the scaly plumage and have a short, rounded tail. They prefer open wild areas and only occasionally spend much time in our yards and at feeders. Four species are larger than the mourning dove. White-winged doves, with obvious white wing-patches, often spend considerable time at out feeders. Eurasian collared-doves have only recently invaded Texas; they possess overall gray-brown plumage with a black collar. White-tipped doves, found only in the southern portion of our area, possess grayish-brown plumage with a pale forehead, and white tips on their tail. Finally, rock doves or domestic pigeons can occur almost anywhere and possess a huge variety of plumage colors and patterns.

This time of year is when all of our doves are in their breeding mode, when they begin to defend a nesting territory and spend considerable time, especially in the mornings, singing. And their song/calls are very distinct. Mourning doves, true to their name, give a sad, mournful call, like “who-ah, whoo-whoo-who” with a sharply rising, inflected second syllable. White-wings sing a song that can be interpreted as “who-cooks-for-you.” Eurasian collared-doves sing a similar song but one that sound like an owl, or “who-whoo-whoo.” White-tips sing a higher-pitched, drawn out “oo-wooooo.” Inca doves give a repetitive, hollow “whirl-pool” call. And ground-doves sing a low, repetitious “woo-oo, woo-oo, woo-oo, woo-oo,” with a rising inflection at the end of each syllable. And our rock doves/pigeons sing little more than a muffled “coo-crooo.” My favorite is the mournful songs of our common mourning doves.

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