Exploring the Mourning Doves Nesting, Egg Laying, Feeding Habits

The Mourning Doves coo may sound sad, but it can be a signal of the dove beginning its nesting habits of claiming territory, calling a mate, laying eggs, and raising young.

The coo sound is also where they get their name.

Mourning Dove Call Sound

The mourning dove's call is a distinctive cooing sound that is often described as a soft, mournful "coo-OO-oo, oo, oo."

The call is usually repeated several times in a row, with a short pause in between each repetition.

The sound is relatively low-pitched and soothing, and it is often heard in the early morning or late afternoon

What Does the Mourning Dove Call Mean?

The purpose of the mourning dove birds call is primarily to attract a mate and establish territory.

During the breeding season, male mourning doves will perch on a prominent branch or other high point and repeatedly call out to potential mates.

The call serves as a way to advertise the male's presence and attract females to his territory.

In addition, the call may also be used to communicate with other doves in the area and establish social hierarchies.

dove pair in nest built inside hanging planter

Male and Female Dove in Planter Box


The Mourning Dove is slimmer than the pigeon and is about 12 inches in length. The Mourning Dove has 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 band.

Found in Canada and all the lower 48 states, down to Mexico.

Feeding Habits

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Doves are common at bird feeders and will eat a variety of seeds. Try placing bird seed on a tray feeder as it's important to keep the seed off the ground to prevent spoilage.

Some of their favorites include White millet, safflower, and cracked corn. These are the most common seeds that Mourning Doves eat.

Try offering Safflower seed for the doves to eat while nesting to supplement their diet. Just don't put it close to the nest as food can attract predators.

A side benefit to offering safflower seed is that you'll also attract more Northern Cardinals to your backyard.

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

Basic Habitat Where Do Doves Live and Nest?

Doves prefer open land with a scattering of trees and shrubs. You'll find them in most types of habitats, excluding forested or wetland areas

During winter, mourning doves sleep in dense evergreens that protect them from weather and predators.

The Mourning Dove is one of the most widespread and common birds in North America due to its habitat adaptability.

The best garden habitat for a Mourning Dove nest includes an 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

Dove Nesting Habits

Mourning Doves nest on and in a lot of unusual places. Preferring woodland or grassland edges, Mourning doves will even nest on the ground in the absence of suitable trees or shrubs.

Man-made objects are also used by doves for nest sites. Things like a flower planters, rain gutters, and even an old Robin nests.

The breeding season of these birds can begin as early as March. Once mated the Mourning doves quickly begin their nesting habits.

They build their nest, which is a loose collection of twigs, grass, weeds, and pine needles. Taking only 2 - 4 days to complete.

I stress loose because dove nest can be so lightly put together that often you can see the doves eggs from the bottom.

Many folks wonder if they should help the birds out. Mostly, 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.

What do Dove Eggs Look Like in Nest?

dove nest with two dove eggs

Dove Nest with Eggs

The Mourning Dove nest can be found 5-25 feet above the ground, often in the crotch of a shrub or tree.

Mourning Doves lay 2 white eggs that the doves sit on (incubate) for 14 to 15 days before the dove eggs hatch.

When Do Baby Doves Leave The Nest?

When the mourning dove babies hatch after two weeks of incubation, the adults will brood them continually for 4 to 5 days.

You may not know that the dove's eggs have hatched during this time since the adults keep them covered with their bodies.

dove nesting on security lights

Dove Nesting in Old Robin Nest

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

Night brooding of the mourning dove babies stops by day 9 or 10 and the young will leave the nest by day 12-14.

Mourning Dove Nesting Stats
Mourning Dove Nesting Stats
Eggs 1 - 2
Incubation 14 - 15 days
Nestling Phase 12- 14 days
Broods 2 - 3

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

The peak Mourning dove breeding season is April - July, although they may nest as early as March and as late as October in some areas.

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

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 had success with 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 types of pine trees.

I place the hanging container under a porch or below the roof of my garden gate.

If placed 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 "crop 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, Doves incubate their eggs continually. Since the male and female look alike, it appears the same bird is incubating the eggs the whole time.

The male does the daytime shift, and the female does the night shift. If you are around mid-morning or mid-afternoon, you might get to see them change places.

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

Do Doves Mate for Life?

People ask "Do Mourning doves mate for life?" Often worrying about what happens when one of the turtle doves dies.

As a species, Mourning doves are not considered to be strictly monogamous and do not necessarily mate for life.

While some mourning doves do form long-term pair bonds and may stay together for multiple breeding seasons, many others do not.

male and female dove in hanging planter
Mated Pair of Doves

Still, Mourning Doves do exhibit a range of mating behaviors that can include both monogamous and non-monogamous behaviors, depending on various factors such as location, population dynamics, and individual variation.

Here is where you can find our definition of the term Birds Mating for Life.

What Happens If One Of The Pair Dies?

I guess people would like to know what a surviving dove will do if its mate dies.

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

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

In due course, the surviving dove will find a new mate.

Since they nest several times a season, (2 - 3 is normal) they may raise a successful brood in the same season with a new mate.

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

So many websites owners only do their research by reading other websites so this mating for life thing just gets larger.

It's possible that the idea of mourning doves mating for life has become popular due to their gentle and peaceful nature, which makes them appealing to many people.

Additionally, their strong bonds during the breeding season and monogamous behavior might contribute to the perception that they mate for life.

However, without scientific studies tracking banded birds over time, it's difficult to definitively say whether any mourning doves mate for life or not.

It's important to rely on scientific evidence and research to draw conclusions about animal behavior, rather than relying on popular beliefs or assumptions.

How Do Doves Mate?

This is the physical process of how these birds mate. Mourning Doves, like most birds, reproduce through sexual reproduction.

The male dove mounts the female to transfer sperm, which fertilizes the eggs inside the female.

The female then lays the fertilized eggs, which develop and hatch into chicks.

What Is The Lifespan of Mourning Doves?

If a dove survives their first year, it can on average live 4 - 5 years in the wild.

According to the Cornell website, (All About Birds) average lifespan for first-year birds is 1 - 1.5 years.

First-year doves 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.

What Are the Predators of These Birds?

Birds that will prey on adult Mourning Dove birds include Hawks and Falcons. On the ground and in the nest: cats, raccoons, opossums, Grackles, Crows, and snakes will eat on doves and their eggs.

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

dove roosting in tree

Can I Move A 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 dove's nest?"

I'm sorry to say that when a nest is moved, most times it is interpreted as a predator attack, which will cause the Doves to abandon the nest.

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

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

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 its intent. Thank you.

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

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 doves during the winter months. 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 websites visitors have told us they were successful at watering their plants with dove nests 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.

Got an interesting story and pictures about Doves in your backyard. Please Share it With Our Visitors. To share, start here: Share My Mourning Dove Story
Read What Others Have Shared.

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 lining the outside edge for cover.

Be sure to hang this planter in the same or close to where they previously nested.

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

What is Special About A Dove Bird

Doves are special to people because of their meaning in life and what it means to people when they see a dove.

We opened a comment section for people to share the special things that doves mean to them. Feel free to read and share your comments here, Doves Mean New Life.

Citation for Mourning Doves Not Mating for Life

Blockstein, D. E. and D. Westmoreland. (1993). "., edited by T. S. Baskett, M. W. Sayre, R. E. Tomlinson and R. E. Mirarchi, 105-116. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

See also: Attracting Mourning Doves

More Topics:

Raising Domestic Doves

Read Stories and See Pics About Baby Doves

Stories and Pics of Nesting in Unusual Places

Pics From Our Visitors

Are Turtle Doves and Mourning Doves the Same

Encourage Nesting - Get a Nesting Shelf


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