Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are year-round New Jersey inhabitants, although they make partial migrations in search of food. They are ground feeders. Their fawn color with black spots helps to camouflage them on the ground. Although they are the most hunted bird in the country, according to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, their population is common and widespread, perhaps because they breed prolifically, with as many as 6 broods, usually of 2 squabs, as they are called, in each brood.
Look for 1 black spot behind and below the eye, a pointed, wedge-shaped tail with white edges, and black spots on wings. Birds and Blooms online reports that mourning doves are closely related to the extinct passenger pigeon, giving us some notion of what it must have been like to have passenger pigeons around.
I think mourning doves look rather prehistoric with their small heads and prominent round eyes. Their distinctive call, cooowaah, cooo, coo, coooo, is another reason for enjoying their presence. The call is uttered by males during mating season. I remember their call being quite common when I lived out on the High Plains. Now, in New Jersey, I hear it only occasionally, making the experience special.
Most sources mention the streamlined flight of mourning doves. Their long pointed wings and tail enable fast flight, up to 55 mph, according to Birds and Blooms online. The photo above of one dove taking off demonstrates this potential, as well as a view of the white-edged tail.
As seems to be the case with most ground feeders, mourning doves peaceably share space with other birds, in the above photo with a dark-eyed junco and a northern cardinal.
Some online sources warn against allowing seeds to fall to the ground, suggesting trays or platform feeders instead. I respectfully disagree. First of all, how do you prevent seeds from falling to the ground. I sometimes joke that ground feeders are paying feeder birds to drop seeds to the ground. Why else would feeder birds toss away 3 or 4 seeds before picking one to eat for themselves. I feed only black-oil sunflower seeds and suet, so they aren’t discarding corn or millet. They are choosing among sunflower seeds that all look pretty much alike to me. Another argument against tray or platform feeders is the squirrel problem. In my experience in central New Jersey, squirrels eat about 99% of any seeds in platform feeders or trays. So, my ground feeders eat sunflower seeds tossed to the ground by feeder birds. There’s always a good supply. What’s the problem with that.
Finally, my favorite mourning dove photo. This dove is enjoying the sunshine while snuggling in wood chips under the new winterberry shrub in my garden. Other doves have been observed snuggling in needles under the white pine tree. I worry about the neighbor’s cat sneaking up on them, but so far the doves have snuggled safely, so far as I know.
Because mourning doves have a habit of sitting on power lines, they are easy targets for hunters in some areas of the country. More often than not, the shot birds are not dressed to be eaten. They are just target practice. Easy sitting targets. That bothers me. So I’m happy when mourning doves in New Jersey find a safe place in my garden, where they are always welcome.