The Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is a member of the dove family, Columbidae. The bird is also called the American Mourning Dove, and formerly was known as the Carolina Pigeon or Carolina Turtledove. It ranges from Central America to southern Canada, including offshore islands. Most Mourning Doves migrate along flyways that are mainly over land. Spring migration north runs late March to May. Fall migration south runs from late August to November. Migration is usually during the day in flocks. Birds in Canada migrate the farthest, probably wintering in Mexico or further south. Those that spend the summer further south are more sedentary, with much shorter migrations. At the southern part of their range, Mourning Doves are present year-round.
The Mourning Dove is a medium-sized, slender dove approximately 12 inches in length. The elliptical wings are broad, and the head is rounded. Its tail is long and tapered. Mourning Doves have perching feet, with three toes forward and one reversed. The legs are short and reddish colored. The beak is short and darkish. The plumage is generally light gray-brown and lighter and pinkish below. The wings have black spotting, and the outer tail feathers are white, contrasting with the black inners. Below the eye is a distinctive crescent-shaped area of dark feathers. The eyes are dark, with bluish skin surrounding them. The adult male has bright purple-pink patches on the neck sides, with light pink coloring reaching the breast. Females are similar in appearance, but with more gray coloring. Juvenile birds have a scaly appearance, and are generally darker.
All five subspecies of the Mourning Dove look similar and are not easily distinguishable. The nominate subspecies possesses shorter wings, and is darker and more buff-colored than the "average" Mourning Dove. Z. m. carolinensis has longer wings and toes, a shorter beak, and is darker in color. The Western subspecies has longer wings, a longer beak, shorter toes, and is more muted and lighter in color. The Panama Mourning Dove has shorter wings and legs, a longer beak, shorter legs, and is grayer in color. The Clarion Island subspecies possesses larger feet, a larger beak, and is darker brown in color. Mourning Doves are prolific breeders. In warmer areas, these birds may raise up to six broods in a season. This fast breeding is essential for the survival of the species as mortality is high. Each year, mortality can reach 58% a year for adults and 69% for the young.
Mourning Doves are attracted to one of the largest ranges of seed types of any North American bird, with a preference for corn, millet, safflower, and sunflower seeds. Mourning Doves do not dig or scratch for seeds, instead eating what is readily visible. Mourning Doves show a preference for the seeds of certain species of plant over others. Foods taken in preference to others include pine nuts, sweetgum seeds, and the seeds of pokeberry, amaranth, canary grass, corn, sesame, and wheat. When their favorite foods are absent, Mourning Doves will eats the seeds of other plants, including buckwheat, rye, goosegrass and smartweed.
The number of individual Mourning Doves is estimated by Birdlife International to be around 130 million. The large population, as well as its vast range, are the reasons why the Mourning Dove is considered to be of least concern, meaning that the species is not at immediate risk. As a gamebird, the Mourning Dove is well-managed, with roughly 45 million shot by hunters each year.
The species does very well in areas altered by humans. As settlers and immigrants cleared the forests that once blanketed much of North America and started growing crops, new habitats for the Mourning Dove opened up. It is one of the most common birds in North America.