The mourning dove’s diet consists almost entirely of seeds, which it takes from bare, open ground, or occasionally picks directly from plant stalks (2) (3) (5) (6) (7). It eats seeds from a wide variety of plants, including grasses, weeds, pines, compound flowers such as sunflowers (Helianthus), and cultivated crops such as wheat, corn, barley and peanuts (2) (3) (6) (7). The mourning dove usually forages in pairs or small groups (3) (5) and feeds quickly, filling the crop with seeds which it can later digest at leisure from the safety of a perch (2) (3) (6).
This species also sometimes eats berries (2). It rarely takes animal matter, such as insects, but does occasionally eat snails, possibly to obtain calcium from their shells (2) (3) (7). Mourning doves also regularly swallow grit, probably to help grind up and digest hard seeds (3) (6). Although the mourning dove can survive in desert, it needs to drink on a regular basis and will fly long distances to favoured water holes at dawn and dusk (3) (7).
The breeding season of the mourning dove varies with location. Birds in the south nest at almost any time of year, although most commonly between February and October (3) (7), while those further north usually start breeding one to two months later (3). The male mourning dove calls from favoured ‘cooing perches’ (2) and performs flight displays to attract a mate, flying up from a perch with noisy, clapping wing beats, before extending the wings and descending on a long, circling glide (3) (6). Breeding pairs will often preen each other’s feathers to reinforce the pair bond (2) (6).
The mourning dove builds a flimsy, unlined nest of twigs, pine needles and grass stems. The nest is constructed by the female using material gathered by the male, and is usually located in a bush, tree, or on the ground. The mourning dove will also nest in more unusual sites such as on cacti, building ledges or gutters (2) (3) (6) (7), or it may reuse an existing nest or take over the old nest of another species (2) (3) (7). Two white eggs are laid, and are incubated by both the male and the female, hatching after about 14 days (2) (3) (5) (6) (7). Like other doves and pigeons, the mourning dove is unusual for a bird in that it feeds its young chicks almost exclusively on “crop milk”, a nutritious secretion from the adult’s crop (3) (4) (5) (6) (9). This is later supplemented with seeds (4) (9).
The young mourning doves leave the nest at 11 to 15 days old, after which they are mainly fed by the male before becoming independent at just 30 days old (2) (3) (7). The mourning dove is a prolific breeder, and its fast development and short nesting cycle allow pairs to raise up to six broods in a season (3) (4) (6). The female can lay a new clutch of eggs while the previous young are still being tended, and the young mourning doves also mature early, sometimes even breeding later the same year (3) (7). However, wild mourning doves usually have a high mortality rate, and the average adult life span is only around a year or so (3) (4).