Mourning dove

Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura).


Mourning doves seem to live everywhere except in forests. They are the most frequently hunted bird in the country, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. They often perch on overhead wires, making them ridiculously easy targets.  I’ve known some hunters to use them for target practice rather than for eating. That’s rotten. What’s wrong with tin cans on fence posts? About the same amount of skill involved. So, although they are common, I like to see them in my garden and know no one will be shooting at them here.


On cold, sunny days, they nestle in the dried pine needles under the white pine tree. I don’t have a photo for that but hope to in the future.


Mourning doves are ground feeders and seem to like the sunflower seeds dropped by other birds under the feeders. Here one is sharing space with a female northern cardinal and a dark-eyed junco.

Mourning doves are named for their mournful, lamenting song. Kaufman’s Field Guide to Birds of North America describes it as cooowaah, cooo, coo, coooo. You can hear the song online, of course. I’ve heard the mourning dove song in many parts of the country, but never in New Jersey.

When I first reported birds at my feeders for Project FeederWatch, I decided that two of the doves I saw were white-winged doves. They didn’t have spots that I could see, and they seemed to have more white on their wings than the mourning doves. A few days later, I got a nice note from FeederWatch asking for identifying marks and photos, if possible. It seems that white-winged doves aren’t known to be present in this part of New Jersey. Various field guides that I consulted identify white-winged doves as birds of the Southwest, although there is mention of vagrants who join flocks of mourning doves. They are the only doves to have big blotches of white on their wings, noticeable in flight. The best distinguishing feature, however, is the tail. Mourning doves have a pointed tail. White-winged doves have a more rounded tail. Well, I watched and watched for some rounded tails under the feeder, but no, all doves present have pointed tails. So did I see two vagrant white-winged doves? Or did I misidentify two mourning doves? Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of the two birds. So, I changed that particular FeederWatch count to all mourning doves, but I’m still watching. Birdwatching isn’t easy.


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