|The mourning dove, Zenaida macroura.|
Every morning a few of them are waiting on my terrace at dawn, huddled and silent, hoping for a handout of food. They stay in New York City for the winter.
I give them sunflower seeds, which they eat without opening. The northern cardinal that eats among the doves takes time to crack and peel each seed, and ends up eating one for about every ten scooped up by a dove. Mourning doves have a special way of drinking, too; they use the beak like a straw to suck up water in a continuous draft. The more common bird method of drinking is by filling the beak and then tipping the head back to swallow.
Mourning doves are light brown and about 10 inches long. Males are a little larger and more colorful than females, with bluish iridescence on the crown and pink on the breast. The mourning dove's tail has long inner feathers, white on the edges, and tapers to a point. Their feet are dull red. Their beaks are thin and black. They have large dark spots on the upper surface of their wings. The wings make a whistling sound when the bird flies and they sometimes clap their wings together noisily above and below the body when they take off suddenly.
Males and females have a small dark comma-shaped mark on both sides of the head below and behind the eyes. Their eyes are dark brown and ringed about with pastel blue skin. Their eyelids are blue, too -- one of my favorite things is to find a mourning dove asleep with its powder blue eyelids showing.
|I caught this one blinking. Blue eyelids!|
Mourning doves are good parents. They sometimes make nests very close to humans; one pair I know use a low windowsill on my building that is eye level to passersby on a busy city street. When nesting mourning doves feel threatened, either may try to lure an invader away by landing away from the nest and making a show of pretending to have a broken wing. When the predator has been lured sufficiently far away by the promise of easy prey, the dove flies away.
Mourning dove are among the 10 most abundant birds in the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated a population size of about 350 million in 2008. The birds are as rural as they are urban, at home on farms as well as in cities. In most of the country the bird is considered a game bird. They are hunted and eaten. But in New England, New York, and New Jersey, the mourning dove is a protected songbird. Hmmmm. If you were a dove, where would you spend the winter?