Mourning Doves

Mourning Dove - male

A couple of days ago we were lucky to catch a pair of Mourning Doves. We had all been sitting in front of the banding ‘lab’, the base of operations for the station, and watching a trio of doves wheeling and chasing each other about the cul-de-sac loop of the road in front. As we looked on, they suddenly swooped around and came down low, and then flew into the open net we could see from where we sat – bang-bang-bang (I say bang, but actually it’s a relatively gentle impact, as much as it can even be called an impact; maybe a better word would be ‘foop’, but foop-foop-foop doesn’t have the same sort of rapid-fire imagery). Myself and one of the other volunteers took off sprinting – Mourning Doves are large enough that they don’t typically stay caught long in a net designed for sparrows and warblers, and one of the three indeed escaped even as we madly dashed toward them. And the doves are caught rarely enough for them to be an interesting capture on a moderately slow day.

Have you ever taken some time to look closely at a Mourning Dove? They are lovely, sleek birds, with very soft, pleasing colours. We tend to think of them as just mouse-brown, but they embrace a broader palette than that. For one, there’s the soft blue orbital ring. The blue is actually coloured skin, rather than feathers. Then there’s the pink corners to the mouth, the overall effect as though they’re wearing eyeshadow and lipstick. The male (above) can be told from the female (below) by the blue-gray wash over the back of his head and neck, and the dusty rose across his breast, which the female mostly lacks. (He’s also a bulkier bird than the female, although this usually requires a pair side-by-side to assess easily.) Both sexes sport an iridescent patch on the sides of their necks. Interestingly, the Birds of North America account indicates that males will usually show pink iridescence, while females will have olive-green, “although some pink iridescence occasionally occurs.” Perhaps they got their memos crossed? Pink does seem like a much more feminine colour, anyway.

Mourning Dove - female