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Mourning Dove
Zenaida macroura
– Family
Authors: Mirarchi, R. E., and T. S. Baskett
Revisors: Otis, David L., John H. Schulz, and David Miller

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Adult Mourning Dove. Starr County, Texas. March.
Figure 1. Mourning Dove distribution in North and Middle America

The Mourning Dove is among the most abundant and widespread terrestrial birds endemic to North and Middle America. Breeding populations of the two principal subspecies - the larger, grayish brown Zenaida macroura carolinensis (eastern) and the slightly smaller, paler Z. m. marginella (western) - occur in parts of southern Canada, all of the lower 48 states, and into temperate Mexico. As a habitat generalist, the species has benefited from human changes to the North American landscape. Habitats vary widely in both rural and urban landscapes; open habitats are preferred and the species generally shuns only extensively forested areas and wetlands. It ranked eleventh among 251 species in relative abundance throughout its distribution (Droege and Sauer 1990), and population abundance in the U.S. has been estimated to be approximately 350 million (DO). This species also is valued by the general public in rural, suburban, and urban locales because it occurs widely, nests readily around yards and farmsteads, and is a frequent visitor to bird feeders. The mournful vocalization of this species is distinctively recognizable to people in spring and summer and has given rise to its common name. It is the leading gamebird in North America in terms of total harvest and the widespread distribution of hunting effort. Approximately one million hunters annually harvest more than 20 million birds, which exceeds the annual harvest of all other migratory game birds combined (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2007).

The Mourning Dove is a partial migrant; most breeding populations in northerly latitudes are migratory, and individuals in southern latitudes are primarily resident. Reproductive strategy of the Mourning Dove is characterized by a determinate clutch size of 2 and a protracted breeding season in which multiple nesting attempts can occur every 30 days. Birds in southern latitudes may nest during almost the entire year. As with other columbids (pigeons and doves), adults of both sexes share incubation duties, and both parents feed newly hatched young on “crop milk,” a unique secretion of the cells of the crop wall. The Mourning Dove is a short-lived species, with an average adult life span of about one year.

The extensive scientific literature on the Mourning Dove was summarized by Baskett et al. (1993). Because only a synthesis of the most important topics can be summarized within the constraints of this account, we recommend referring to their book for more specific details of interest. Recent research effort has emphasized population biology and harvest characteristics, development of improved harvest management strategies, and evaluation of the potential consequences of lead poisoning.