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All About Mourning Doves

I love a quiet, summer day when I hear the mourning doves cooing to each other from tree-to-tree. Every year I see a few doves lazing on the rail of my deck close to the bird feeders. They get their name because of the soft, drawn-out call that sounds like a lament. When they fly away, their large wings make a “whistle” or “whir” kind of sound as the air rushes through their feathers.

Greg Yarrow is the chair of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation at Clemson University. He says there’s a good reason why mourning doves like to hang near bird feeders. About 90-percent of their diet is seeds.

"They like a variety of different seeds that are high in oil content and some that are high in protein," says Yarrow. "They like a lot of grass seeds, or seeds from small broadleaf plants, and a lot of these seeds that are available on the ground, that fall on the ground where they can find them."

Mourning doves prefer open land with a scattering of trees and shrubs for cover and nesting. Yarrow says they build their nests about 15-feet off the ground. Unfortunately, they don’t have much pride in home ownership because nest construction is incredibly sloppy.

"The male and female begin to build the nest sometime in February, and it looks like just a pile of sticks thrown together," says Yarrow. "The female lays her eggs, she’ll lay two eggs, and a lot of times in areas where there’s wind, those eggs get knocked down so they’ll have to many times re-nest and lay the eggs. But they can do that up to four or five times, so they’re very prolific."

Yarrow says there are approximately 500-million mourning doves in the United States, and one of the most widespread and adaptable North American birds. They have a high rate of reproduction, but also a high rate of mortality. He says the birds live on average about a year-and-a-half.

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