Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

January 18, 2011

Three of 400 Million

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:15 am

It’s hard to believe that there would be something new to say about Mourning Doves. They are, after all, one of the most widely distributed birds in North America. It is estimated that there are over 400 million of them on the planet and they number as the stars in the heavens. Everyone from east to west is familiar with Mourning Doves. They are common winter feeder birds, common yard nesters, and their “Co-ah coo coo coo’s” are a regular part of the national soundscape. So, when I came upon some roosting doves on a recent cold snowy morning, I was hesitant to take their portrait. I mean, how many dove shots does one need? What intelligent thing could I say about them in this blog that hasn’t already been said?  O.K., intelligence isn’t a crucial part of my writing, but I still have to say something.

Fortunately, I took the time to stop and observe the gang for some time. Time spent with any part of nature, no matter how seemingly mundane, is always worth the effort. As an observational note, it is worth pointing out that sleeping doves habitually lower their heads down between their shoulders as opposed to tucking them back over one shoulder like other birds. So, even this small behavioral reminder was worth the effort – who knows, that might be a Jeopardy question some day and you might be the contestant faced with answering it.

Although skittish, the doves were in no rush to fly away. A trio of nervous birds took a short whistling flight and relocated together on a dead branch (see above and here). They settled down in their new spot after realizing that I posed no threat (see here). I took their portrait and moved on. I later looked at the photos and was amazed at their subtle beauty. It was almost as if I’d not really seen a Mourning Dove before. The January light brought out fantastic shades of pink, tan, and blue that aren’t immediately apparent on the summer version of the bird. Puffed out feathers highlighted every contour and scalloped edge. I was so enamored that I took some additional shots of another lone dove a few days later. I had discovered a new species: the “Winter Dove.”

Now, I have something to say about this. You see, our winter doves are not the same as our summer doves. Mourning Doves are an over-wintering species but they are also true migrants. Most of “our” resident doves migrate either to the Texas/Louisiana or the Alabama/Florida regions in the fall. Northern ranging doves then move south into our winter environs to spend the winter. These are likely Canadians (Co-ah coo coo coo-eh) and aren’t from around these parts. They look and act just like our birds, however. There is some evidence that a few of our locals actually stick around as well, but there is no way to identify them other than their slightly dumber look (just kidding).

There is one more thing about these Winter Doves. Most of them are probably males. One Missouri study – the “show me state” where everything has to be proven – concluded that the male birds have a higher metabolism than the females.  Given this metabolic edge (a 3.8% edge) the males are better able to tolerate the harsher conditions of the frigid north and therefore dominate the winter flock.

I did some further work and found that there is still more that can be said about winter Mourning Doves, but I will hold off for now. The factual stuff is fascinating, but it is alright to linger on the esthetic side for once. These overly common, overly familiar birds are pretty cool looking in the cool season. Eh?


  1. Fascinating info. I never realized that our winter doves were visitors from points north. As always, I learned something on your site. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by North Country Rambler — January 18, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

  2. So the dove hanging out in front of my house is not the same one all year round? I had no idea. There does seem to be more males than females. My ‘guy’ has a hard time finding a mate every year.

    Comment by Cathy Creswell — March 17, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

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