Nature in Canada: Mourning Doves

Despite the cliché rhyme, the dove does exhibit and yearn for true love. For several years now, I have been observing the strength of the beautiful bond between a pair of mourning doves living in my backyard, and it has not faded one bit. They rarely leave each other’s side, and can often be seen sitting on the telephone wire nestled together or feeding on seeds. Although mourning doves are granivorous, they are still selective with their one food source, carefully choosing only the most nutritious and delicious of the seeds at their disposal (5). They actively seek seeds with primarily high-carbohydrate and starch levels for energy, only searching for those rich with protein, lipids, and calcium when breeding for egg production (5). Mourning doves are true food critics though, always willing to try new seeds for the taste, often disregarding colour, texture, or size. They remember the locations of their favorite feeding places and frequently do rounds throughout the territory (3). Therefore, no matter what the season, our dove couple can always be found nibbling away at the pile of seeds we put out for them every day, containing white proso millet, red milo, soft wheat, dried cut corn, hard red wheat, and black oil sunflower seeds.

Speaking of love, mourning doves find mates in the spring and breed throughout the entire summer. They make from three to six nests year-round, so they can produce an average of three broods each year. Immature mourning doves can then begin breeding as soon as the following season (2). Wild mourning doves coo less frequently when tending to their broods, saving their energy for flying to feeding and foraging destinations (6). Under all other circumstances, male mourning doves are renowned for their cooing, especially unmated males, which coo up to ten times more often overall. Mourning doves have several coo variations, but the perch-coo is the most popular and well-known six-note call, with three notes in rapid succession (one low, one high, and one low) followed by a lower note repeated three times and held for longer durations. Unmated males perch-cooed an average of 8.40 times per three-minute interval; whereas, mated males perch-cooed 0.63 times per three-minute interval. When performing this coo, ‘the male arches the neck, puffs out the throat, stiffens the body, and bobs the tail at each note’. Females rarely perch-coo, and when they do it is a poor imitation (1 p. 293-295).

The nest call is also quite common among mourning doves, which the male primarily uses to inform the female of possible nesting sites or to call the female to him at the selected nest site. Although this coo is shorter and fainter than the perch coo, the song will ring aloud enough for the female to observe him. He will have his ‘head held forward’, ‘neck slightly arched’, and ‘feathers on the back of the neck’ elevated. Once the female joins the male, he will coo quietly once more. Again, females rarely nest-coo, and males will also use this coo to court or to defend territory (1 p. 296-297). However, the bow-coo usually serves as a more effective warning to other birds that a mourning dove is willing to attack. It is usually performed by mated males, as unmated males possess poorly defined territories and do not have any family to protect (1). First, the mated male will bow its head and body to touch the ground up to ten times in rapid succession. It will then rise and coo loudly at its enemy, which is sometimes followed by a charge display encompassing a raised body, pointed tail, and a series of fluttering leaps. When a mourning dove’s wings beat, it releases whistling sounds that can sound like chirping (1).

Perhaps the mourning dove’s most endearing trait, other than its adorable waddle and innocent eyes, is its ability to decipher when it is going to rain, according to folklore. They have been observed cooing frequently before rainfall and cooing more so during the spring than the fall, coinciding with the saying of ‘April showers bring May flowers’. Some speculate that the spike of calling activity could simply be due to springtime mating, but others insist that mourning doves do possess an inherent ability to tell the weather. Many animals can react much more instinctively to the environment than humans, so this mystic power is possible. Mourning doves do coo quite fervently after a storm has passed, so if anything, they can at least signal to humans that a storm has ended (4). Hence, the mourning dove is often nicknamed the rain dove. This bird is also one of the most popular in North America, so it should not be too hard to spot one or hear one the next time it rains.


  1. Baskett, Thomas S, and Gary L. Jackson. “Perch-cooing and other aspects of breeding behavior of mourning doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 28, no. 2, (1964), pp. 293-307.
  2. Blankenship, Lytle H, and Harold D. Irby. “Breeding Behavior of Immature Mourning Doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 30, no. 3, (1966), pp. 598-604.
  3. Davison, Verne E, and Edward G. Sullivan. “Mourning Doves’ Selection of Foods”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 27, no. 3, (1963), pp. 373-383.
  4. Haugen, Arnold O, and Arthur J. LaPerriere. “Some factors influencing calling activity of wild mourning doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 36, no. 4, (1972), pp. 1193-1199.
  5. Hayslette, Steven E, and Ralph E. Mirarchi. “Patterns of Food Preferences in Mourning Doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 65, no. 4, (2001), pp. 816-827.
  6. Mackey, James P. “Cooing frequency and permanence of pairing of mourning doves”. The Journal of Wildlife Management, vol. 29, no. 4, (1965), pp. 824-829.

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