Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Mourning Dove


Male and female mourning doves look similar with grayish-brown backs, buff-colored undersides, black spots on the wings and behind the eye, and white feathers in the tail, which show during flight. Juveniles can be distinguished from adults by light buffing on the tips of the primary feathers, which persist until the first molt. By the age of 3 months, it is difficult for the casual observer to distinguish the difference between young and adult doves.


The mourning doves is one of the most abundant and widely distributed bird species in the United States. The current continent-wide population estimate is over 400 million in the fall migration.

Mourning doves are abundant in Michigan, especially south of a line from Bay City to Ludington. Conservative population surveys estimate that 4 million birds migrate from Michigan each fall. Michigan currently participates in two national surveys: the Dove Call-count Survey and the Breeding Bird Survey. Both surveys indicate no change in the Michigan dove population over the last 38 years (Dolton and Rau 2004).

Habitat Requirements

Mourning doves are highly adaptable and use a variety of habitats including coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and residential, urban, and agricultural landscapes. Habitat needs include trees for nesting and roosting, a food source, and a source of water.


In the Midwest, the mourning dove reproductive cycle begins with egg laying in late April/early May, and continues until fledging ends in early September. Doves build scant nests of twigs and grass within trees or shrubs 10 to 30 feet above ground. In wooded areas, elms and maples are preferred. In open areas, coniferous shelterbelts and windbreaks are preferred.

Mourning doves lay two white eggs per clutch and raise between two and five clutches per year. Both parents take part in incubation and brood-rearing activities. Young doves, or squabs, hatch featherless and grow rapidly, increasing their weight by 14 times within 15 days of age. Young can survive on their own 5 to 9 days after leaving the nest and most leave the nest area within 2 to 3 weeks of fledging. Research studies indicate that nest success is approximately 53 percent in the Eastern Management Unit. See Figure 2 for management unit boundaries.


The natural mortality rate for mourning doves is high; approximately 6 out of 10 birds do not survive from one year to the next. Research indicates that mourning dove mortality is caused by a variety of factors including nesting failure, predators, disease, accidents, hunting, and weather extremes.

Food Habits

Ninety-nine percent of the mourning dove diet is comprised of weed seeds and grains. Preferred weed seeds include pigweed, foxtails, wild sunflower, and ragweed. Preferred grains include corn, sorghum, and millet. Insects make up a very small proportion of the dove diet. Doves travel an average of two to eight miles for food.

Migration Patterns

Doves that breed in Michigan migrate to wintering grounds in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi or to wintering grounds in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Mourning doves that breed in other states and Canada migrate through Michigan. Some of these doves winter in Michigan and the remainder migrate to more southerly wintering areas.


At the national level, the mourning dove is a migratory bird protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This Act allows managed hunting, based upon dove population surveys. States are responsible for establishing their own hunting seasons within the Federal framework.

Mourning doves currently may be hunted in 41 states. In the Midwest, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Missouri, and all states south have mourning dove hunting seasons. Nationwide, approximately 13.8 million mourning doves are harvested annually.

Currently, Michigan does not allow the hunting of the Mourning dove because the bird is not a game species listed in Public Act 21. In 2006, Act 160 of 2004 allowed mourning doves to be listed as game species, but was rejected in the 2006 election and therefore, Mourning doves are not hunted in Michigan.

In May 2014, Governor Snyder signed Public Act 21 of 2013, giving the Natural Resources Commission the power to add to the game species list. In Public Act 21 Sec. 40113a, the legislature finds and declares that the commission has the exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game as defined in section 40103 of the document.

Public Act 21 of 2013 was suspended in May 2014 and the Michigan Natural Resources Commission Referendum was put on the ballot as a veto referendum, where it was defeated. The measure would have upheld Public Act 21 of 2013. Any species added to the game list by a public act that is rejected by referendum before the effective date of the 2013 amendatory act that amended this section (MCL: 324.40110), the Natural Resources Commission shall not designate as a game species.

In August 2014, the Michigan Legislature had passed the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that restores the NRC's ability to designate game species using principles of sound scientific fish and wildlife management. The Act was presented to the legislature after sportsmen's organizations collected nearly 300,000 signatures. Because it was submitted to the legislature with over the required 258,000 signatures, the measure does not require the approval of the Governor before becoming law. Passage of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act ensures that fish, wildlife and conservation decisions are made by our state's professional wildlife biologists using scientific methods.

2006 Michigan Ballot Proposal - Proposal 3

History: Act 160 of 2004, which listed the mourning dove as game and authorized the Natural Resources Commission to declare the first open hunting season, was approved by the governor and filed with the secretary of state on June 18, 2004.

On March 28, 2005, a petition seeking a referendum on Act 160 of 2004 was filed with the Secretary of State. Const 1963, art 2, sec 9, provides that no law as to which the power of referendum properly has been invoked shall be effective thereafter unless approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon at the next general election. A referendum on Act 160 of 2004 was presented to the electors at the November 2006 general election as Proposal 06-3, which read as follows:

Public Act 160 of 2004 would:"Authorize the Natural Resources Commission to establish a hunting season for mourning doves.
"Require a mourning dove hunter to have a small game license and a $2.00 mourning dove stamp.
"Stipulate that revenue from the stamp must be split evenly between the Game and Fish Protection Fund and the Fish and Wildlife Trust Fund.
"Require the Department of Natural Resources to address responsible mourning dove hunting; management practices for the propagation of mourning doves; and participation in mourning dove hunting by youth, the elderly and the disabled in the Department's annual hunting guide.
"Should this law be approved?"
Yes [ ]"No [ ]"

Result: Act 160 of 2004 was rejected by a majority of the electors voting thereon at the November 2006 general election.

Literature Cited
Dolton, D.D. and R.D. Rau. 2004. Mourning dove population status, 2004. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Laurel, Maryland, US.A.

Thomas S. Baskett, Mark W. Sayre, Roy E. Tomlinson, and Ralph E. Mirarchi. 1993. Ecology & Management of the Mourning Dove. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA.