MOURNING DOVE  Zenaida macrouraZenaida macroura

The Mourning Dove, the most common game bird in the United States (Tomlinson et al. 1994), is also very widespread in Texas, reported in more latilong-quads than the ubiquitous House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) in this state.  These doves are seed-eaters  (Mirarchi and Baskett  1994).

DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work seasons of the TBBA project, atlasers found breeding evidence for Mourning Doves widely distributed across Texas. North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data for 1994-2003 indicate an annual average relative abundance of 10-30 doves per 40 km (25 mi) route in all parts of the state (Sauer et al. 2007). A route in Shackelford County had a route average of 231 Mourning Doves  per year, the highest average in the United States and Canada (Price et al. 1995).

In eastern North America Mourning Doves breed as far north as southern Canada (farther north in western and central Canada) and south in Mexico to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Breeding also occurs from Nicaragua to Panama and in the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. Recoveries of banded doves indicate many individuals move to the Gulf Coast states, California, Arizona and Mexico in winter (Mirarchi and Baskett  1994,  Howell and Webb 1995, Am. Ornithol. Union 1998, Sauer et al. 2007).

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Mourning Doves are present in Texas year-round and breeding has been reported in all months, although it is most common from March to September (Oberholser 1974).  Texas and Mexico are major migratory destinations for doves from the central states and provinces (the Appalachians to the western Great Plains) with some eastern doves also reaching this state (Mirarchi and Baskett  1994) Because northern populations move to and through Texas and some doves breeding in Texas may migrate,  exact timing is difficult to determine. 

BREEDING HABITAT. Most Mourning Doves in Texas breed from sea level to 1800 m (6000 ft) in a wide range of habitat types, although generally avoiding dense forests (Oberholser 1974, Mirarchi and Baskett. 1994). In Oklahoma where these doves breed statewide habitats listed include: suburbs, towns, cemeteries,   roadsides, farmsteads, shelter belts, cultivated lands with scattered trees and bushes,  open woodlands and arid  country (Young 2004).

In Colorado, 37% of breeding evidence was found in rural and urban areas (mostly rural), 21% in deciduous woodlands (mostly riparian), 15% in pinyon-juniper woodlands, 12% in short-grass prairies and  9% in sagebrush areas (Kuenning 1998). In Arizona with habitats more like the Trans-Pecos region, 44% of breeding evidence cane from Sonoran Desert habitats, ranging from riparian to desert to grasslands, 14% pinyon-juniper woodlands, almost 9% Great Basin desert and grassland  habitats, 4% agricultural and rural areas and the remaining 30% spread over a wide variety  (Clark 2005).

Mourning Doves build their nests on a horizontal branch of various deciduous or coniferous trees (3-30 m [10-100 ft] above ground), in shrubs, in vines, on the ground or on human-made structures (Mirarchi and Baskett 1994). An enterprising pair in southern Arizona placed their nest atop a column under a porch overhang, protected from sun, rain and predators (RCT).

The male brings small twigs to the female, standing on her back as he delivers them. She stands in the middle of the nest, arranging twigs and shaping a bowl with her body. This process takes about 10 hours spread over 2-4 days. In the depression in the frail platform, the female usually lays 2 smooth, white, unmarked eggs over 1-3 days. The female generally incubates at night with the male replacing her in mid-morning. The eggs hatch after about 14 days and the nestlings normally leave the nest 15 days after hatching, although they may leave as early as 9-10 days if disturbed. Pairs usually raise 2-4 broods per year (Harrison 1979, Mirarchi and Baskett 1994 ).

STATUS. Mourning Doves are common to abundant in Texas (Lockwood and Freeman 2004) .The map in  Oberholser (1974) shows no apparent difference from the TBBA map below or from the BBS map. BBS trend data for Texas suggest a modest annual population decline of  -0.8% derived from 202 routes This trend is similar to the total United States and Canada  trend from  3631 routes (Sauer et al. 2007). This modest decline, in spite of the annual harvest of this game bird and its continuing loss of habitat to an expanding human population, is a testament to this dove’s reproductive ability.

Text by Robert C. Tweit (2007)
Texas Breeding Bird Atlas map

Literature cited.

American Ornithologists’ Union. 1998. Checklist of North American birds, 7th ed. Am, Ornithol. Union, Washington, DC.

Clark, G. S. 2005. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). In Arizona breeding bird atlas. pp. 192-193 (T. E. Corman and C. Wise-Gervais, eds.), University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.

Kuenning, R. R. 1998. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). In Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 200-201 (H. E. Kingery, ed.), Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership, Denver.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

Mirarchi, R. E. and T. S. Baskett. 1994. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). In The birds of North America, No. 117 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Price, J., S. Droege, and A. Price. 1995. The summer atlas of North American birds. Academic Press, New York.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2007. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2006. Version 7.23.2007. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD <>

Tomlinson, R. F., D. D. Dolton, R. R. George and R.F, Mirarchi. 1994. Mourning Dove In Migratory shore and upland game bird management in North America (T. C.  Tacha and C. E. Braun, eds.)  Intern. Assoc. Fish Wildl. Agencies, Washington, DC.

Young, E. A.. 2004. Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). In Oklahoma breeding bird atlas, pp.164-165 (D. L. Reinking, ed.). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman.

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