Too often, we overlook birds we think of as common, everyday or familiar. Yet at the same time, these birds have the potential to bring us the most pleasure because we can observe them more, learn their quirks and truly get to know their habits and personalities. Once we begin to appreciate these birds even more, we’ll see just how much joy then bring us. Ironically, let’s start with one bird more associated with sadness than with joy – the mourning dove.
Name: Mourning Dove
Scientific Name: Zenaida macroura
Scientific Family: Columbidae
Habitat: These doves are widely adaptable to different habitats, but prefer open, wooded areas such as open woodlands and forest edges, particularly adjacent to meadows and agricultural fields. They are widespread in similar urban and suburban habitats, such as parks, orchards, cemeteries and yards.
Range: A year-round bird of the continental United States, southeastern Canada, the Caribbean and much of Mexico, mourning doves spread slightly further north into south-central Canada during the summer breeding season. In winter, they become more widespread in coastal Mexico and into Central America.
These doves are soft and gentle in many ways, starting with their soft gray and tan coloration, marked only with scattered black dots on the wings, a black dot on the side of the neck and an iridescent patch on the side of the neck as well. The lighter underparts are buff with a pinkish wash, and their dark eyes appear wide and innocent in their gentle face, set off by a pale blue eye ring of bare skin. The tail is long and tapered, and shows creamy white underneath, while the legs and feet stand out as bright pinkish-red.
Even their mannerisms can be gentle, as these birds often stay perched and pragmatic, sunning themselves and enjoying their surroundings without the frenetic action so many other birds have. I have even seen these doves carefully balanced on a metal fence, not flinching or fussing when a yard sprinkler gently rained down in regular splashes and sprinkles (of course, it was a hot day and perhaps it was just nice to be cool!). Their soft, cooing voice is also gentle, and the mournful quality of their calls is what has given them their name.
Yet gentle does not mean dull, deluded or unintelligent. These birds can be very wary, and will use freeze tactics when they feel threatened, before exploding into flight to escape an uncertain situation. In flight, their wings make a whirring sound, and they may follow an erratic flight path as another escape technique if they fear pursuit.
I can’t remember a time I wasn’t familiar with mourning doves, but it wasn’t until I became a birder that I started to recognize all their fine qualities. These birds are often seen in pairs, and stay close to one another as supportive partners throughout the year. They regularly visit seed feeders, and are useful guests as they clean up under feeding areas and enjoy seeds that other birds often cast aside. In all the different places I’ve made a home over the years, I’ve always been pleased to see mourning doves, and I’m glad to let their gentleness into my life. I hope they bring such peace to yours as well!