Ask a Naturalist: Are mourning doves lifetime mates?

November 17, 2020

Written by Angie Cha



Roughly 90% of the world's bird species are monogamous (be it mating for life or mating with one individual at a time). Some doves will mate for life while others will only pair up for the season. In some cases, if their pair passes away, it is believed that these doves are aware of their loss and mourn the death of their pair. Although these doves may seem to mourn over death, they are not named for this reason but for the mournful, haunting and sad sound they may. If you’re not familiar with the sound that a mourning dove make, it’s easy to mistake their call as an owl.

Mourning doves are also great parents. From building the nest together and taking turns incubating the eggs, they both work hard to care for their young. Doves feed their young something called “pigeon milk” or “crop milk.” Despite the name, it is not actually milk. Doves and pigeons are able to produce a milk-like food for their young from the glands in the crops. The parents will start to make this substance a couple of days before their eggs hatch. They will feed their young this liquid or "milk" for a couple of weeks before introducing seeds, which are their main source of food.

If mourning doves were to feel threatened by animals, humans, or other factors, it is common for doves to abandon everything about that nest, including eggs and nestlings. So please watch them and their nest from a safe distance so the parents feel comfortable with their surroundings.


Build a variety of bird feeders or pick your favorite one in the link below! Bird feeders are a great way to watch nature from a distance and give birds a source of food without having to be close to people. Click here (or the image below) to learn how!



Turn on your deer ears and head outside! See if you can hear the calls of a mourning dove. You may hear them throughout the day, but you will most likely hear them in the early morning and evening! They sound like a hooting owl so listen well! Here is an example of what a mourning dove sound like while it’s hanging around some delicious seeds! 


Additional Resources

Check out New Hampshire PBS's page on mourning doves to learn more about their behaviors, habitats, diet, and more!