“The mourning dove must have been one of the first birds that attracted the attention of the early settlers when this country was new and wild. They must have recognized the bird as not far removed from some of the Old-World species of pigeons, and its notes must have recalled to them their old home. The writers of these times speak of the bird familiarly, especially as a game bird that relieved the hardships of pioneer life.”
The Mourning Dove’s “coo, coo, coo” is sometimes heard as a “hoot.” As you know, owls “hoot” in popular parlance. On a number of occasions I have had non-nature type people tell me they have heard an owl, leaving me the mournful task of explaining that what they have actually heard is a Mourning Dove.
In addition to its hooting “coo,” the mourning dove also “whistles.” The whistle is not a vocalization; it is produced by the wings when the bird takes off.
|Detail - J.J.Audubon's "Mourning Dove"|
Apparently the gunning skill required to shoot Mourning Doves is what still makes them a game bird in many states. It certainly is not, and never was, a major source of food. At just over four ounces in weight, feathers and all, it would take a lot birds to make a meal.
By the early twentieth century the Mourning Dove’s numbers were severely decreased in New England. In 1908, it received protection in the northern states as a songbird, allowing its numbers to increase. Today in appropriate neighborhoods in our area, it can be considered common, to very common, to abundant.
The Mourning Dove ranges throughout the United States and Mexico. In southern Canada and the northern United States it is seasonal, breeding during the Spring and Summer and then migrating to warmer climes.
The migratory habits of the Mourning Dove probably account for its remarkable uniformity across its vast range. The birds mingle and mix during the winter. When they return to the breeding grounds their DNA also gets mingled and mixed. Most modern field guides (Sibley in particular) note racial differences among species especially where those differences are notable in the field. Almost no attention is paid to subspecies of the Mourning Dove because the differences are so slight. Bent describes the western race as slightly paler and slightly larger. But note the word, “slightly.”
|Charles Lucien Bonaparte|
The Mourning Dove was named by Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. When the family fortunes declined after Waterloo, Charles moved to America with his new wife (and first cousin), Zenaide and his uncle/father-in-law, Joseph. He lived in Bordentown, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “While residing in the United States from 1822-1828, he re-edited a volume with the longest title in American ornithology ... ‘American Ornithology, or History of Birds Inhabiting the United States not given by Wilson.’” Bonaparte is considered to be the father of systematic ornithology in America. Bonaparte’s Gull commemorates him.
|Zenaide Bonaparte (right)|
The species name, macroura, comes from the Greek for “long” and “tail.” Thus the literal meaning of the name, Zenaida macroura, is “Zenaida’s long tail.” The long tail of the Mourning Dove is considered by some to be its outstanding characteristic. When the bird is perched, the tail is long and pointed. Then it takes flight and the long tail flares in an elongated triangle with prominent white tips on the outer tail feathers.
More next week. Good birding.