The Mourning Dove – Canada’s Own Pigeon

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Dear Readers, Canada is blessed with the usual feral pigeons and (increasingly) the Eurasian Collared Dove (which looks set to be as successful in North America as it has been in the UK). However, the Mourning Dove is the bird that always typifies Canada to me. It’s a small, bright-eyed bird with a distinctively doleful call.

Interestingly, the wings also make a strange whistling sound, which you can hear at the end of the clip below – it sounds almost like the call of a different bird, or maybe a very tiny horse whinnying. Like most pigeons, the Mourning Dove is an excellent flyer, being able to reach speeds of over 55 mph.

The bird is a popular game bird in the USA, with up to 20 million of these small birds shot every year, but it maintains its population by being able to have up to six broods every year, each with two chicks. Both parents feed the squabs with crop milk, a secretion unique to the pigeon family which enables the birds to breed more or less all year round, especially as the adults eat seeds and so are not dependent on the insect population.

Photo One by By Andrew Atzert from Mesa, AZ, USA - Family of DovesUploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0,

Mourning Dove parent with two chicks (Photo One)

Mourning Doves are not showy birds, but their feathers have a delicate, misty beauty. A legend of the Huron/Wyandot people of North America tells how a Mourning Dove was the favourite bird of a maiden, Ay’ura, who died. Her spirit travelled towards the entrance of the underworld but all the Mourning Doves followed, and wanted to go with her. The Sky Deity, who guards the gate to the underworld, lit torches so that the smoke would obscure the entrance, and so Ay’ura went on to the spirit world, but the feathers of the Mourning Doves were smudged with the smoke. Their cry is said to resemble the chant that used to be said over the dead.

Photo Two from By -, CC BY-SA 2.5,

Mourning Dove (Photo Two)

The birds that I saw in Canada are probably recent arrivals – Ontario is towards the northern range of the Mourning Dove, which can be found throughout the US and down into Mexico. The Canadian birds tend to migrate south every year, returning into Canada between March and May. On arrival, the males court the females with graceful, circular glides, followed by the usual pigeon-y bobbing dance. The male then leads the female to some potential nest sites, and she chooses one. The male then finds the nesting material while the female builds the nest, no doubt being extremely picky about the male’s offerings. Both parents incubate the eggs, and both feed the young. They seem to be devoted parents, which is probably another reason for their success – they are considered of ‘Least Concern’ as far as conservation goes.

And while this is not directly related to the Mourning Dove, I am in the mood to share this poem with you. It has been such a hard two years, and yet the birds are still singing, and the sun is shining outside my hotel window. If nothing else, so many of us have learned to look at familiar things in a new way. The Mourning Dove is one of Canada’s commonest birds, and yet I’d never really considered it before. There is always something new to learn, and to admire.

“Hope is the thing with feathers”  by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Sound Credits

First file by Manuel Grosselet from XC381111 Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) :: xeno-canto

Second file by Paul Marvin from

Photo Credits

Photo One By Andrew Atzert from Mesa, AZ, USA – Family of DovesUploaded by Snowmanradio, CC BY 2.0,

Photo Two from By, CC BY-SA 2.5,

2 thoughts on “The Mourning Dove – Canada’s Own Pigeon

  1. Anne

    We have the indigenous African mourning dove (Streptopelia decipiens) here. The story you relate of the ones in Canada is beautiful – and I always enjoy poems by Emily Dickinson.

  2. Ann Bronkhorst

    My granny, as a gullible little girl in the 1880s/90s, was sent to a local shop by her older brothers to ask for two pennyworth of pigeons’ milk.


Leave a Reply