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Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Mourning Dove -- blue eyelids!

The mourning dove, Zenaida macroura
Coo-ah coo coo coo Coo-ah coo coo coo -- the call of the male mourning dove sounds melancholy and mournful (to us) and gives the bird its common name.

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?

13 comments:

  1. How interesting about the whole sunflower seeds! Nice picture of the blue eyelids... They are lovely birds. I scare up a few out of the brambles on my dog walk every day, and I am always happy to see them.

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  2. We were very lucky to come home on Easter evening to find a dove nesting on two eggs in one of our window boxes. It's been such a sight to view her and her mate over the last few days. One thing I have been wondering is that I have bulbs growing in the window box that really need to be watered. However, I've been afraid to open the window because I don't want to scare the dove away. If I do open the window and water the bulbs, is it likely that the dove will come back? It's more important to me that the dove be undisturbed than that my plants get watered, but I'm curious whether you have any knowledge about this. We're on a fourth floor walkup in the back of the building.

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  3. That's a good question! People have done research studies about this. For instance, The Effect of Disturbance on Mourning Dove Nesting Success, by Westmoreland and Best, in the ornithological journal The Auk, Vol. 102, No. 4, 1985. Some studies found significant reduction in nesting success in disturbed nests and others found none. If you can get a copy of the journal article from your local library you can read the details. Even when they are not disturbed, nests sometimes fail. If doves were nesting in my window box I would err on the side of caution and leave them alone until the little ones leave.

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  4. Wonderful pictures! I absolutely love the doves that come to eat seed from my yard each day. They are so cute...I feed them seed morning and early evening and they seem to know the schedule. They sit in a nearby tree and watch for me to put seed out. I can see them craning their necks to look at me in excitement about being fed. In Fall I can get up to 30 doves eating at once. I was never a bird lover until a few years ago but now I'm hooked.

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  5. They are indeed loyal to their feeding spots! I love to hear them murmuring softly outside my windows.

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  6. The morning our 15 year old daughter passed away, two mourning doves started building a nest in our palm tree right in front of our front door. They had three sets of chicks right in a row and then the coopers hawks got after them and they left for awhile. Now they returned and are building a nest in the memorial garden we built for our daughter. They have become our symbol of peace during the long and hard process of dealing with our daughter's death. Is there any way we can ward off the coopers hawks and not threaten the mourning doves?

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    1. I am so sorry for your loss. Nesting morning dove are nice under any circumstance but I see how much more special they must be to you. Keeping in mind that the cooper's hawks are just looking for food, there are ways to make that little corner of your yard less appealing to them. Here is a link to a very good list of things that you can try. http://birding.about.com/od/birdfeeders/a/protectbackyardhawks.htm Good luck and best regards, Julie

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  7. This is a great blog! I live in Harlem, and absolutely love the group of Mourning Doves who come to my "fire-escape bird garden". I noticed a few of them when I put out some potted plants in the summer--think they were looking for water and/or grit to help digest their food--so I put out a little bird feeder for them this year, and now I've had as many as 34 on the coldest winter days--in Manhattan! This just thrills me because I always associate them with my parents' house where I grew up, in a very rural area in GA with only 500 people--to me it's amazing that a bird can be that adaptable; they always look so soft and cuddly with their blue eyelids and pinkish chest feathers as well, I feel really soothed watching them, and I especially appreciate their song here--so calm and lovely compared to sirens and car alarms and other city noises! Do you have any idea of the size of the Mourning Dove population in nyc?

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  8. Hi Stephanie, Thanks!

    I don't know how many there are in NYC. They are abundant throughout their range -- I saw an estimated global population of 130 billion. That's enough to allow hunting seasons in many states and to earn them a conservation status of Least Concern.

    I agree those soft cooing sounds are very comforting. Love their sweet little faces too, especially the blue eyelids. Have they ever nested in your fire-escape bird garden?

    Best, Julie

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  9. Hi Julie and Stephanie!

    I live on the UES and have just started putting out birdseed for a pair of mourning doves that hang out on my windowsill and fire escape. They visit every morning and I just love to watch them interact, esp. when they are so close. Stephanie, I know exactly what you mean about their being so soothing and lovely. I would like to encourage them to make a nest in a flower pot on the fire escape and was just wondering if either of you know what time of year they will be house-hunting? Thanks so much! -Katie

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    1. I would expect them to nest in early spring, but don't know the breeding date for NYC. Maybe Stephanie or another reader can speak from experience?

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  10. I just saw this post whilst googling info on mourning doves! I live near AMNH and these sweet (ahem, ahem) creatures are frequent visitors to my garden. Like, you I've enjoyed their blue eyelids as evidenced @ https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=508880475827997&set=a.355589574490422.73015.247917655257615&type=1

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