By Nora Bodrian, Trail Guide
How often have you seen the silhouette of a bird perched high in a tree, only to remark ‘Oh, it’s just a Mourning Dove’? The Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) is one of the most common birds on the North American continent, abundant from southern Canada to central Mexico. It is named for its haunting and melancholy cooing sound, which is made by puffing up the throat without opening the bill. Several songs have referenced the Mourning Dove, usually reflecting the lament of a lost love. In addition to lovesickness, the Mourning Dove symbolizes a visitation from a deceased loved one. On an international level, doves represent hope and peace.
The Mourning Dove has a small round head and a long, pointed tail. They are grey above, pale peach underneath, with distinctive black spots on the wing coverts, a dark bill, and pinkish legs. They can be seen foraging for seeds on the ground, temporarily storing them in the crop, the enlarged portion of the esophagus, until they can reach a safe place to complete digestion. When taking off or landing, the wings make a unique whistling sound. The wing whistle is caused by the contoured shape of the wings, which creates a high-pitched vibration and incidentally serves as an alarm for other birds. The long, pointed wings are almost falcon-like, allowing them to fly very fast: usually 30-40mph, and accelerating up to 55mph.
Mating pairs are monogamous and sometimes even mate for life. During the mating ritual the male puffs up his breast and bobs his head, which progresses to mutual nibbles on the neck. The male brings nesting material, and the female builds a flimsy nest, and both share in feeding the new babies by regurgitating crop goo. Doves are prolific breeders, which is why they are one of the leading game birds in the U.S., hunted for sport and for meat.
The invasive, non-native Eurasian-Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) is another dove common to our area. They are chunkier than the Mourning Dove, with a black crescent on the back of their neck, and no black spots. These are slightly aggressive, chasing off smaller birds from their territory, and their call is more impatient and frequent. Originally from India, they spread to Asia and Europe. In the 1970s several escaped from an enclosure in the Bahamas, and by the 1980s they made their way to Florida. Like other doves, they have adapted well to urban life and have managed to colonize across the continent at a greater speed than any other species of bird. They first arrived in San Diego about 20 years ago.
Next time you see a Mourning Dove, you might exclaim ‘Look!! It’s a Mourning Dove!’ and