December 15, 2020
The mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is the most abundant, widespread game bird in North America, and it's one of the most abundant birds in the entire U.S. It's estimated that there are nearly half a billion mourning doves in North America! On average, dove hunters shoot about 20 million mourning doves per year. While we aren't huge fans of shooting nature here at #BenInNature, the good news is that mourning doves are prolific breeders, although their populations are in a slight decline in parts of the western U.S.
If you have mourning doves at your bird feeder (and if you have a bird feeder, you almost certainly have mourning doves), you've probably noticed that they make a loud whistling noise when they take flight. This sound is created by the flight feathers of mourning doves; when they take off, the air vibrates the tips of the feathers. It's believed that this sound probably helps communicate danger (an approaching predator, for example) to other members of the flock.
If you see mourning doves feeding, you might notice that they fly away from the feeder every so often to perch in a nearby tree. These doves eat seeds almost exclusively (up to 20 percent of their body weight per day!), and when they find a good source of seeds, they eat a large amount and store them in their crop (an enlarged portion of the esophagus). Once a dove fills its crop, it will fly to a perch to hang out for a bit to let its food digest.
It was once believed that mourning doves were the closest living relatives to passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius), which were driven to extinction in 1914 by overhunting. An impressive if terrible feat, given that there were once as many as five billion passenger pigeons in North America making it the continent's most abundant bird. While passenger pigeons and mourning doves look incredibly similar, genetic analysis has since proven that the passenger pigeon's closest living relatives are actually the New World pigeons from the genus Patagioenas. Nonetheless, the possibility of using mourning doves to potentially clone the extinct passenger pigeon has been discussed, although there would be a lot of hurdles to surmount.
If you'd like to attract mourning doves to your feeder, most seeds will work as they're not terribly picky. However, like many birds, they do seem to have an affinity for sunflower seeds.
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends.
NEW: TRIVIA CHALLENGE
You've seen the posts. You've learned the facts. Now, it's time to prove you are a #BenInNature Mega Fan! The museum's education team has developed the #BenInNature Trivia Challenge to identify the most devoted fans out there! Everyone who successfully answers each trivia question correctly will be congratulated by having your own nature selfie posted to the museum's #BenInNature Mega Fan Photo Album on the official VMNH Facebook page! Learn more and download the trivia challenge today by visiting www.vmnh.net/research-collections/beninnature-trivia-challenge.
NATURE PHOTO IDENTIFICATIONS
If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!