"We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart." – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Often mistaken for an owl’s call by the layperson, the
Mourning Dove’s distinctive echoing coooo-ah
coo, coo, coo is a well-known sound all across the state. These ground-feeding birds often congregate
below feeders, helping themselves to the seeds spilt by messier birds above. They will nest in almost any location, as
evidenced by the photograph at right, and Mourning Doves are numerous in the
Commonwealth today. A hundred years ago,
quite the opposite was true.
The initial clearing of forest from Massachusetts was
beneficial to the Mourning Dove population.
The only habitats in which you are unlikely to encounter a Mourning Dove
are forests and wetlands…conveniently,two habitats which agriculture
tends to degrade. Mourning Doves feed
primarily on seeds, and they adapted quote readily to gorging themselves on
cultivated cereals. As the forests
returned and Mourning Doves were hunted for meat and feathers, their numbers
dropped sharply. In the early part of
the twentieth century, the bird looked as if it might follow its cousin the
Passenger Pigeon down the road to extinction.
State protection in 1908 saved the Mourning Dove, which recovered
vigorously and re-colonized almost all areas of the state by the time of Atlas
The Mourning Dove was so utterly ubiquitous in Atlas 1 that
its map doesn’t really necessitate much comment. A conspicuous gap around western Worcester
County is the only real anomaly here.
Quabbin Reservoir and the surrounding protected forests aren’t ideal MODO
habitat, certainly. Suburban
developments, on the other hand, appear to serve quite well in this
capacity. Mourning Doves profit from
feeders and handouts to supplement what they can forage from grass seeds and other
natural food sources, and there are abundant places to nest. Suburban development certainly seems to have
helped close what few gaps remained in the Mourning Dove’s Massachusetts range.
Over 98% of our adequately surveyed blocks have
evidence of breeding Mourning Doves. As
previously mentioned, these birds will accept a wide variety of nesting
substrates. Their loose stick nests may be
woven in the boughs of a conifer or a deciduous tree, on a window ledge, on the
ground, and even in the back of a wicker chair on the porch of the Harbor View
Hotel on Martha’s Vineyard. Mourning
Doves will raise two broods of chicks to fledging in the course of one breeding
season in Massachusetts, and the young reach sexual maturity at around three
months. In a particularly long or
prosperous season, this means that the young of the year may breed in the same
season in which they were born, although this is rare in Massachusetts. The Bay State is also one of only ten states
in which Morning Doves are found where hunting of the birds is still forbidden
by law. Our winters are harsh, however,
and those resident MODO’s who choose to stay in Massachusetts through the cold
months don’t always survive to the spring.
Their haunting cries may seem to mourn their fallen comrades when warmer
weather returns, but the survivors have proven that Mourning Doves are here to
historic information in the text comes from Mass Audubon's Breeding Bird Atlas
1 or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "Birds of North America" site
(bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna) unless otherwise stated.
Photo credit: Thanks to Robert and Wendy Culbert for this wonderful picture of a Mourning Dove nest on the porch of the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. This is a really amazing shot!