Mourning Doves

Before I see the swoop of gray wings that is a mourning dove I hear its gentle coo, which gives the impression of poignancy. Along with spring’s visual drum roll, you can add the sounds of birdsong to the season’s sensory experiences. Early daybreak brings the dawn chorus as birds of many species trill, twitter and chirp. Chiefly, males are out and about giving it their all as they sing to announce their territory or to win over a mate.

Graceful mourning doves are seed-eaters who consume 12 to 20 percent of their weight each day, according to Cornell Lab’s All About Birds website. They are ground foragers and also dine on wild grasses, berries, the occasional snail, and other non-seed foodstuffs, but seeds are their food of choice. While feeding on seed, the birds store the food in pouches located in their esophagus, called a crop. When their crop is full, the slender-tailed doves take time to digest the seeds somewhere out-of-the-way from danger.

If adult male or female doves have young, which are known as squabs, they will feed the digested seeds, or crop milk to their squabs since the young are unable to digest raw seeds themselves. Both the male and female dove sit on the nest in order to incubate the eggs in nests made unsystematically of grasses and twigs. The courtship methods of the mourning dove commence with a clamorous sound by the male, then the lovely looping glide of the female as she opens her wings and puts her head down. Courting couples preen one another’s feathers. After the male guides his mate to potential nesting sites, the female has her say and selects the site. Mr. Dove then presents materials such as twigs, grass and pine needles to the Mrs. so that she can construct the nest.

Some mourning doves prefer to take over old nests once belonging to other birds or squirrels. The clutch is usually two eggs, which are white. Both sexes sit on the nest to incubate and often take shifts, with the male most often preferring the morning shift. As the birds ascend, their wings sound like little whistles. The slender, brownish-to-tan birds sport black spots on their wings and a long, stylish tail.

Mourning doves are found across America and are also hunted, being one of the most sought-after game birds in North America. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that another bird in their family, the non-native Eurasian collared dove, is laying claim to North America rapidly and may be affecting the native mourning dove populations.

Mourning doves are often associated with peace and are incorporated into celebrations like weddings and other holidays. The eastern mourning dove has a celebrity role as both Michigan and Wisconsin’s state symbol of peace. According to the book Pomo Myths by S.A. Barrett, Dove has a featured part in the Pomo Indian myth called ‘The Theft of the Sun,’ which takes place in Scott’s Valley and also features a Blue Jay, Lizard, Crow, and Buzzard. North American poets Robert Bly, Jared Carter, Lorine Niedecker, and Charles Wright have all written poems about mourning doves.

As you enjoy the freshness of an Earth that’s dyed green again, look up to the chichory blue sky and listen for mourning dove’s haunting yet peaceful song. David Attenborough said, “Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird?”

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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