Ah, spring! I recently observed a mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) pair near Lower Hat Creek. These two will most likely begin to build their nest in one of the nearby trees. However, I am not certain that their nests would meet any building codes. The mourning dove nest is a very loose platform of twigs amid the dense foliage. It is so flimsy that the eggs can be seen from underneath and often fall through the nest onto the ground. I have looked up at the bottom of a mourning dove nest and have indeed seen the white eggs. In the West they will sometimes build their nests on the ground.
The most common and widespread dove in North America, the mourning dove can be found in all of the continental states. One of the smaller doves (pigeons are also doves), it has a fat body, small head and long tapering tail. The silhouette of a mourning dove is very distinctive and makes identification easy.
Mourning doves are brown to buffy all over their bodies, although the wings are usually a darker shade. There are black spots on the wings. The tail feathers have white tips with black borders.
Although they are considered a bird of the open country, mourning doves can be found just about everywhere except in deep forests. One can often observe them sitting on telephone wires.
Seeds (grains, grasses, weeds, berries) comprise their diet. They can be found feeding on the ground in fields, in grasslands, on roadsides and even at urban feeders. They peck and move leaves aside with their beak but do not scratch. Mourning doves will often quickly eat large quantities of seeds and store them in their crop, an enlargement of the esophagus, then fly to a safe perch to digest the meal. Doves can drink brackish (salty) water without dehydrating, thus can also inhabit the desert.
I love the soft, slow, drawn-out call of the mourning dove. It definitely is a mournful, yet beautiful, sound – one longer note followed by three shorter notes. I love to wake to the call of the mourning doves in the cottonwoods outside my window.