Mourning Doves Habits

The Mourning Doves Coo may sound sad, but bird watchers know that it signals the beginning of this birds habits of nesting, claiming territory, and raising young.

It always amazes me where a bird may decide to build a nest and these birds are no exception.

As you can see, this one used an old Robin nest on top of the security lights at the back of this house. Two healthy squabs were raised from this nest site.

dove nesting on security lights

Mourning Dove Call


Slimmer than pigeons and about 12 inches in length. Mourning Doves have a soft gray-brown body and a gray patch on the head.

Black dots on their wings and a single black spot behind and below the eyes.

When perching you'll notice a long tapered tail. In flight you'll see that the tail has a white-edged.

Feeding Habits - What Do Doves Eat

tray feeder for doves

Found in Canada and all of the lower 48 states, down to Mexico. Also common in most types of habitats excluding heavily forested or wetland areas.

Doves are common at bird feeders and will eat seeds. Try placing bird seed on a Feeder Doves Love like the one pictured above. It's important to keep the seed off the ground.

White millet, Safflower and cracked corn are the most common seeds they eat. Try offering Dove Safflower seed and you'll also get Northern Cardinals eating at your feeders along with Doves.

For more information on seeds and photos of each, please see our Bird Seed Page.

Basic Habitat

Mourning Doves prefer open land with a scattering of trees and shrubs for cover and nesting.

Doves are one of the most widespread and adaptable North American birds. The best garden habitat includes open lawn, herbaceous borders, and flower beds, with scattered patches of trees and shrubs.

Dove Range Map

Include a source of water close to the ground (in winter, see: heated bird baths) in addition to providing bird seed and you should be able to attract these birds all year.

Dove Standing on Deck Railing With Nest Material in Beak

Nesting Habits

Beginning as early as March, Doves begin nest building. Taking about 2 - 4 days to complete. A loose nest of twigs, grass, weeds and pine needles.

I stress loose because their nest can be so lightly put together that often you can see through it from the bottom.

Many folks wonder if they should help the birds out. For the most part I suggest leaving it alone, but I'm not there looking at it like you are.

If startled they may fly off the nest too quickly and the eggs could fall from the nest. Birdwatchers would be wise to wait until the eggs have hatched before approaching any nest.

Nest abandonment is very common with Doves. If they feel any threat from predators whether human or animal, they may go elsewhere to nest, abandoning both eggs and nestlings. Bird watchers need to exercise caution.

The nest can be found 5-25 feet above the ground, often in the crotch of a shrub or tree. Laying 2 white eggs that are incubated for 14-15 days.

When Do Baby Doves Leave The Nest?

When the baby doves hatch the adults will brood them continually for 4 to 5 days. You may not know that the eggs have hatched during this time.

By day 6 or 7 if the weather cooperates, the adults will begin to leave them alone. Sometimes for long periods of time.

Night brooding is stopped by day 9 or 10 and the young will leave the nest by day 12-14.

They have been known to reuse the same nest for five sets of eggs in a single season. Usually 2 - 3 broods raised each season.

The peak of the breeding season is April - July although they may breed as late as October in some areas.

Pairs stay together (monogamous) through the season and some may pair up in following seasons.

Many of our visitors have shared some unusual nesting sites that doves have used and how they dealt with things.

You can try attracting them to nest near you by placing a Dove Nesting Shelf attached to a tree or your house. Another trick I've tried was to use a hanging plant container.

I fill the container with soil and top it off with some White Pine needles. White Pines have very soft needles unlike many other pines.

I place the hanging container under a porch or the roof of my garden gate. If placing on your deck or porch, make sure you hang it close to the outside of the deck or porch.

A Pair of baby doves (squabs) peering out of the nest
Two Squabs (baby doves)

Mourning Doves, along with Pigeons, produce a food called pigeon milk (not really milk) by glands in the crop of the adult bird.

The parent opens its mouth wide, permitting the nestling to stick its head inside to feed on the nutritious food.

In a few days the "milk" feeding subsides and the adults will begin feeding the young squabs regurgitated seeds. Adults will keep feeding the young for about a month after hatching.

The adults will teach and help the young for a short time after the young leave the nest.

In the wild, the adult birds feed primarily on field waste grain. These include corn, wheat, grass, and weed seeds.

You can attract these birds to your feeder by supplying white and red proso millet, oil-type sunflower seeds, and cracked corn.

Important Nesting Information

Often emails from bird watchers arrive asking "Our dove has not left the nest in days, will she starve or die of thirst? What should we do?"

Unlike most birds, these birds tend to incubate their eggs continually. Since the male and female look alike, it appears the same bird is incubating the eggs the whole time.

Actually, the male does a daytime shift and the female does the night shift. If you are not around during the change, it appears the same bird has been on the nest the whole time.

Not to worry, the switch was made while you were not looking.

Do Doves Mate for Life?

male and female dove in hanging planter
Mated Pair of Doves

People often worry about when one of the birds die. These birds are perfect prey for cats because they feed mostly on the ground.

Sometimes the surviving bird will attempt to incubate the eggs, or continue feeding the nestlings.

This is a difficult task for a single bird and often unsuccessful.

In due course, the surviving dove will find a new mate. Since they nest several times a season, (2 - 3 is normal) it's possible they will raise a successful brood in the same season.

While it's sad to lose these birds in your yard, be comforted knowing they will mate again.


The average lifespan of first year birds is 1 - 1.5 years. First year birds have a mortality rate of 60 - 75 percent and adults have a mortality rate of 50 - 60 percent.

For any songbird the first year of survival is the most difficult. If these birds survive their first year they can live on average 4 - 5 years in the wild.

Predators of Mourning Doves

Birds that will prey on adult Mourning Doves include: Hawks and Falcons. On the ground and in the nest: cats, raccoons, opossums, Grackles, Crows, and snakes will feed on doves.

Due to their ground feeding behavior, they are often caught by Predators.

dove roosting in tree

Moving Dove Nest

I get many emails complaining that doves have nested too close to the door or where dogs are contained. They ask "can I move the doves nest?"

I'm sorry to say that when nest are moved, most times it interpreted as a predator attack and the nest is then abandoned.

All I can suggest is to do your best. Use the door if you have to and keep dogs monitored at fledging time.

There are times nest must be removed. This happens when nest are located on movable objects such as automobiles or tractors that have sat for a period of time.

It's then that I would recommend trying to move the nest but keeping it as close as possible to where the nest was found.

Don't walk the nest 20 feet away and place it in a tree. Use common sense. It may not work out, but you've done what you can.

I am aware of others who have had success. --- That's my 2 cents on this matter. Please don't write and tell me about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. I'm aware of what it says and am confident in it's intent. Thank you.

Do Doves Migrate or Go South for Winter

Northern populations move south while those in the mid range are partial migrants and Southern residents stay in their area. In most areas of its range you'll see dove during winter months.

Birds Need Water in Winter - Learn More

Heated birdbaths can help in their winter survival.

Doves Nesting in Hanging Planter, How or Can I Water?

This is up to you as many of our website visitors have told us they were successful at watering their plants with dove nest in them.

First and foremost don't get water anywhere near the eggs, nest, or squabs. Doves always cover these three things when it rains. The adult takes the brunt of the weather.

If possible, wait until the adult is off the nest. Then, water around the edges of the plant making sure none of the water runs toward the nest.

If the adults are never off the nest then I'll leave it up to you.

Some folks have been able to water successfully by gently approaching the nest and having the adult leave. Giving them time to water.

Be aware that this method might cause the adult to be gone for quite some time waiting to see when it's safe to return.

There is always a chance they'll abandon the nest but it's less likely if there are squabs in the nest.

If the plant is in a semi-shaded area you can decide what you want most, the plant or the dove nest.

An idea for the future is to place a hanging basket just for the doves with plastic foliage linning the outside edge for cover. Be sure to hang this planter in the location where they've nested before.

Be sure to scoll on down for all the stories our visitors have submitted about having Doves

Products for Attracting Doves

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heated bird bath pedestal
Heated Pedestal Baths

heated bird bath with dripper
Heated Ground Bath
heated bird bath deck mounted
Heated Deck Mounted

heated birdbath deck mounted
Scallaped Deck Mounted

More Topics:

Raising Domestic Doves

Read Stories and See Pics About Baby Birds

Stories and Pics of Nesting in Unusual Places

Pics From Our Visitors

Encourage Nesting - Get a Nesting Shelf


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What Other Visitors Have Said

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