Traditionally a farm bird, the mourning dove has
adapted to urban and suburban areas. They are one of the most
abundant and widely distributed birds in North America with an
estimated population size of 350 million birds! The mourning dove is
also the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America.
Every year hunters harvest more than 20 million.
Mourning doves can be identified by their plump,
grayish brown body, small head and long pointed tail. These native
doves can reach speeds of 37-55 miles per hour while flying. Males
can be easily distinguished from females by an iridescent blue patch
of feathers on the back of their head and a rosy breast, making them
slightly more colorful than the female. They are named for their
hollow, sorrowful sounding call, "cooo, cooo, cooo" which is often
mistaken for the hoot of an owl. Mourning doves are abundant in
Maryland due their ability to adapt to a variety of habitats and to
their high reproductive rate. Although mourning doves only lay and
rear two eggs at a time, it is not unusual for a pair to have four
to six clutches a year. Both the male and female work together to
raise the young. Doves make good parents and may even fake an injury
to attract predators toward them and away from the nest.
It is estimated that almost 400,000 mourning doves
live in Maryland between March and November. In August, a greater
number of mourning doves can be seen as some from northern areas
pass through Maryland in route to the Carolinas.
Mourning doves prefer to feed on flat surfaces on
the ground. They are common visitors to bird feeders which are fond
of all sorts of bird seed, especially millet, oat, wheat and cracked
corn. Many times, you will see doves foraging on seeds spilled below
feeders. Mourning doves consume an average of 12-20 percent of their
body weight per day in seeds! Like most other seed eating birds,
doves prefer millet and sunflower seed. Since many commercial feeds
contain sorghum, wheat, hulled oats and rice along with millet and
sunflower seeds, much of premixed bird seed is wasted. Therefore, it
may be more economical to just buy the seed they prefer, not the
While mourning doves are common feeder birds, there
are several ways in which you can entice more to your backyard. For
one, you can plant sunflowers in your yard. In addition, you can
also plant tall shrubs and evergreens near feeding sites to provide
roosting and nesting areas. Mourning doves will also frequent bird
baths, and really enjoy dead trees for roosting. So if you can
safely leave a dead tree or snag on your property, then mourning
doves may find it and use it.
Doves do not nest in tree cavities or nest boxes.
Mourning doves prefer to nest on horizontal branches of pine and
cedar trees, but they will also nest in shrubs and even on the
ground. Doves typically nest in trees along the edges of fields,
pastures, or clearings and are seldom found in densely wooded areas.
To create nesting cover for mourning doves, you can plant small
clumps of two to three trees or even several single coniferous trees
around open fields or your front yard.
Mourning dove nests usually consist of sticks placed
in the crotch of a tree. Since these nests are very flimsy, they
sometimes will use a hanging baskets or man-made nesting cones made
out of hardware cloth to support their nests. Nesting cones are easy
to assemble and are an excellent way to attract these interesting
How to Build a Mourning Dove Nesting Cone
- 12" x 12" piece of ¼" or ½"mesh hardware cloth
- Wire cutters
- Cut the edges of the 12” x 12” square hardware cloth to
form a circle.
- Cut out a 2 ½" wedge along the outer edge of the circle.
- Pull the two cut edges together to form a cone. Overlap the
edges about 1 inch and staple the two edges together.
- The nesting cone should be placed in a partially shaded
area, in the crotch of a tree, about 6 to 16 feet above the ground.
- Attach the nest to the tree with nails or staples, bending back
the sharp, cut edges of the cloth underneath the cone.
Tips for Attracting Mourning Doves
- Make sure that the cone has enough vegetation around it to
conceal the nest, yet not so much that the dove has difficulty accessing the
- Mourning doves like flat, platform-like bird feeders filled with
cracked corn, millet, sunflower seeds, and peanut kernels.
- On large properties, planting corn, wheat, or buckwheat will
attract mourning doves. Fallow fields with ragweed, crab grass, and pokeweed
also attract them. When planting crops for mourning doves, plant in strips near
shrubs, which will serve as protection when the doves are frightened. Leave some
open ground, as well, to allow the doves to forage for fallen seeds.
Invite Wildlife to Your Backyard!
For Additional Information, Contact:
Wildlife and Heritage Service
580 Taylor Ave, E-1
Annapolis, MD 21401
- Mourning dove portrait by USFWS
- Sunflower, photo by Kerry Wixted
- Mourning dove in a hanging basket, photo by Kerry Wixted