Despite my being relatively new to the hobby of bird watching, you might say birding generally is in my blood. Before I was born, my grandfather bred and raced pigeons. Despite not experiencing the pigeons first-hand, I have heard many stories and learned many details about pigeons throughout my life. As a result, I am very fond of pigeons, a bird so often written off and sometimes even referred to as winged-rats. I haven’t had a pigeon in my yard yet, which I must admit makes me a bit sad because I know they are in the neighborhood.
Given my fondness for pigeons, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I also like the Mourning Doves that visit my yard. Doves may appear a bit large and awkward as they waddle around, but the understated modesty of their fawn color and their size match their gentle demeanor. They are in fact very graceful in flight. And if you watch them closely in the right light, their feathers display an iridescent quality, so subtle it feels like a whispered secret. They also have the slightest hint of blue outlining their eyes which seems to imply there is more to them than you think at first glance.
The husky size of a Mourning Dove seems to make all the more sense when you learn that they eat almost 20% of their body fat, daily. They only eat grains, which is why they are a common visitor to feeders, including mine. However, again due to their larger physic, they are typically ground feeders, scrounging up the discarded seeds. A few times a dove has tried to land on one of my feeders, but their size and center of balance just won’t allow it. My current feeder pole has a round flat tray on one tier and the Dove’s seem to have claimed it as their own perch (better them than the squirrels).
Mourning Doves typically visit my feeders in groups, which is always guaranteed to add to the fun because inevitably one of the males decides to get his flirt on. Puffing up his chest and neck feathers, he begins chasing around one of the lady Doves, bobbing his head forward and back as he walks, in a very exaggerated manner. Pigeons have a similar behavior. I am not sure if they just like to play hard to get, but nine times out of ten the females run away, fly away and generally seem unimpressed.
Despite the evasive maneuvers I have witnessed, this behavior must impress the ladies eventually because Doves are fairly broody as birds go. While they only lay two eggs per nesting, they reproduce about three or four times a season. You may sometimes find a couple with more than two babies (squabs). This is the result of another Dove laying parasite eggs for a fellow Dove to raise.
Both of the parents share the responsibility of incubating and feeding the young. The babies are fed crop-milk which is even a bit more gross than it sounds. If you are interested, google it.
Mourning Doves are so common in North America they are commonly hunted. About 20 million are hunted annually. But have no fear, the population is not at risk. Besides being very fruitful in a breeding season, Mourning Doves also live a relatively long time, the oldest known Dove being 30 years old at the time of his demise.