Updated: Sep 10, 2021
photo: LoLo Spencer Photography
Every spring when birds attempt their nest building in the eaves of our covered patio I usually manage to quickly deter them before they even get started… that is, I did until this year.
One day in spring earlier this year, I heard the all too familiar woo-WOO-ing of a couple of Mourning Doves, so out to the backyard I went, ready to ‘shoo’ them away yet again but this time was a little different. As I looked up toward the eaves ready to move them on, the male, his beak stuffed with bits of twigs looked down at me with such soulful, pleading eyes as if to say, “please can we stay, just this once?” Naturally, I caved and stepped aside. Instead being a nuisance, they became our resident pet doves and I couldn’t wait to photograph the baby birds that surely would arrive soon!
I carefully kept my distance as I watched them build their ramshackle love nest. The male kept a fierce watch over the whole enterprise, dive-bombing any perceived threats to their newly acquired domicile. He worked tirelessly from dawn till dusk, collecting odd bits of twigs and straw, always depositing them next to his female who remained in the eaves most of the time constructing their nest.
Mourning Doves typically lay one or two clutches up to six times a year. photo: LoLo Spencer Photography
Now I must say here, that for as much time and effort as they both put into this endeavor, their nest never seemed get beyond a flimsy, twiggy mess. I just assumed they must be new at it and hadn’t yet acquired the proper nest-building skills of more seasoned birds.
Finally, after several days the nest was complete (at least their version of it) and a few days later a single egg appeared. As exciting as it was, I felt a little trepidatious as I watched the nest become sparser and sparser every time Momma bird moved around. Sure enough, a week later, the unthinkable happened! The precious egg, their one and only clutch fell from the nest and well, you get the picture. It wasn’t pretty. In the aftermath of their loss, the Mourning Doves hung around as if in disbelief for a few days before heading off.
The male Mourning Dove watches over the female as she constructs the nest. photo: Canva.com
The whole exercise seemed to be all for naught and I found myself feeling a little saddened by their loss so I was surprised when the pair suddenly showed up a few weeks later and started re-building their nest. Only this time they seemed to take extra care building it as they’d start the nest then suddenly scrap it and start it all over again. It was as though they had become perfectionists determined to get it right!
Intrigued by what I thought was bizarre bird behavior, I started googling information about Mourning Doves and their habits. It turns out this crazy mixed-up pair are actually quite typical. Read on to see what I learned.
Not so bird-brained after all
Mourning Doves may seem a bit stupid when they build flimsy nests but the reality is they have no need to alter their nest-building behavior or skills. They are quite prolific, producing as many six clutches each year. Apparently, birds are as smart as they need to be and Mourning Doves are no exception!
Mourning Doves mate for life and share feeding responsibilities of their nestlings between them. photo: Canva.com
A Few Fun Facts About Mourning Doves
The mourning dove is named for its haunting and sad woo-wooing sound.
Its scientific name is Zenaida Macroura
Did you know that Mourning Doves are also called Turtle Doves … hmm that sounds a bit familiar!
Mourning Doves mate for life and the bond is so strong it can, for a time, extend beyond death. The doves have been known to watch over their deceased mates and try to care for them, and to return to the place where the birds died.
After mating and choosing a nesting site, the male brings twigs to the female who builds the nest.
Mourning Doves only lay 1 or 2 eggs per clutch but can produce up to 6 clutches each year.
It is estimated that between 50-65% of all Mourning Doves die annually. The average life span for an adult Mourning Dove is 1.5 years though they can live longer in captivity, up to sixteen years.
The oldest known free-living bird, discovered through bird banding research, was over 31 years old.
Like all birds, Mourning Doves are unable to sweat, so to stay cool during hot weather, they pant just like a dog.
Male and female Mourning Doves look very similar, but the male is slightly larger and has a more colorful bluish crown on its head and a pink colored chest.
The birds have a “crop”, which is a muscular pouch located in its neck above the chest that functions as a storage place for food.
Both Mourning Dove parents feed their young on “crop milk,” a yogurt-like secretion produced by the walls of their crop. It takes both parents to provide enough food for the growing nestlings. If one parent is lost during the nestlings’ first seven days, the young will not be able to survive on the food produced by the lone remaining adult.
All in all, Mourning Doves are loyal, hard-working mates, and not so ‘bird-brained’ after all when it comes to nest building. They’re just as they need to be, fascinating!
About the Author
Laurie "LoLo" Spencer is a lifestyle and portrait photographer based in Southern California specializing in emotive photography for families, couples, maternity and newborns.
Contact me for more information about booking availability and pricing. I’d love the opportunity to create beautiful artwork and lasting memories for you and your family.
National Geographic Mourning Dove
Birds & Blooms Teri Dunn: 13 Fascinating Facts About Mourning Doves
Audubon Society Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura