Mourning Doves exploding in the fall: adaptability and resilience

Meadowcreek has several springs and one is a real gusher.  It’s a steady abundant source of fresh, pure water.  This week we brought some friendly engineers to survey from the spring to our most Southern meadows.  They determined we can use the main spring for water for all our pastures and fields.

mourning_dove1That’s really good news as we seek to be more resilient to droughts, but it was not the only interesting result from their visit.  While driving through our fields, the largest flock of doves I’ve ever seen at Meadowcreek exploded into flight.

When taking off or landing, dove’s wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying sound.   If the group is large enough, it’s an explosion of doves taking off.  They are fast, agile fliers making sudden ascents, descents, and dodges.  The most well known and beloved quality is the soft, drawn-out call that sounds like a lament–hence the name mourning dove.  Some confuse the dove’s coo with the owl’s hoot, but listen closely and you’ll hear the softer, more mournful sound of the dove.  The writers of pioneer days speak of the bird affectionately–as a game bird that relieved the hardships of pioneer life.  It reminded them of the turtle dove of Europe.

Just like the turtle dove, mourning doves do mate for life.  Usually you’ll see them in pairs (as in the Twelve Days of Christmas), unless they have eggs to care for.  Then the parents take turns incubating eggs. The female sits all day.  At dusk, they trade off and the male sits on the nest all night.  All this monogamous activity is probably where the expression, “lovey-dovey” came from.

The dove is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds. It is also the leading gamebird.  Some say more than 20 million birds (up to 70 million in some years) are shot annually in the U.S.   Its ability to sustain its population under such pressure stems from its prolific breeding.  In warm areas like Arkansas, one pair may raise up to six broods a year.

They are plump-bodied and long-tailed, with short legs, a small bill, and a head that looks particularly small in comparison to the body. The long, pointed tail is especially conspicuous.

In color, mourning doves often match their surroundings. They can be a delicate brown to tan to light grey, but always with black spots on the wings and black-bordered white tips on the tail feathers. Males and females are similar in appearance. They are hard to spot until you hear their call or they explode into flight. Mourning doves eat almost exclusively seeds.  At Meadowcreek we see them a lot more in the fall when seed is abundant.

As you might expect from such a widespread, prolific species, mourning doves live in many different habitat types–except they don’t like deep woods. They nest in all kinds of spots.  Often you’ll find nests on a horizontal branch of an evergreen tree–a pine or cedar–affording a firm foundation for the flimsy nest. They also build their nests on other birds’ nests left over from the previous year.  The bird also nests on the ground, in a clump of grass, on the stump of a tree, or even on a wooden ledge attached to an inhabited building.  Some observers contend they prefer the vicinity of buildings.  We most often see them near our buildings.

In parts of the country where the mourning dove spends the winter, one of the early signs of spring is when the winter flocks begin to break up and the doves separate into mated pairs. Just as the mockingbird in southern states bursts suddenly into song and separates winter from spring, so the male mourning dove, who has been silent through the winter, at the first hint of spring begins to coo to attract a mate.

European settlement of North America has been good for the doves.  Their numbers increase whenever more ground is put into cultivation.  When woods take over, their numbers decrease.  When more land was put into cultivation in the Midwest and forests replaced farms in the east, dove populations increased in the Midwest and decreased in the East.

Doves like farmers and farmers like doves–illustrating the complementary diversity of all resilient systems..  Like coyotes and other highly adaptable animals, doves respond well to the changes man makes in the environment.   Doves have all the characteristics of resilient species.  They should do well, no matter how the climate changes.

When we bring water from the spring to all our pastures, they may do even better.


For more on resilience and the eight qualities of resilient systems, including complementary diversity, see our free online book available at this link.