Our neighbor slings millet seed for the birds from a coffee can. Every morning a row of doves perches on our back fence waiting for the hand-out. Our friend Jim said it looked like they were ready for target practice and that’s the first I knew people hunted doves. But they are among the most popular game birds.
Mourning doves are strong fliers. They erupt from the fence with resounding wing claps. They fly straight and fast, making a beeline over our house and neighborhood, towards the golf course where they find water. Unlike some desert birds doves need water and will fly ten miles each way to reach it.
These birds are often seen pecking diligently at the ground. What we can’t see is that they are stowing large quantities of seed in their crops. Later they retire to a shady place to digest. As the seeds reach the stomach or gizzard of the animal, gravel the birds have ingested works as internal teeth to grind the seeds to a pulp. Parents regurgitate crop milk for nestlings.
Mourning dove nests consist of just a few sticks that the male brings to the female so she can build her flimsy platform. We’ve had doves nest on the narrow ledge above our front door and in a low branch over the sidewalk. I’ve read that sometimes babies drop right through the bottom of the haphazard nests. Slap dash nest building comes in handy later in the summer when breezes cool eggs and babies from below. While sitting on the nest on a hot day the female absorbs heat from the eggs and pants to cool herself. She also carefully turns the eggs several times a day.
Mourning doves are one of the most abundant birds in the U.S. with a population estimated at more than 350 million birds. The reason for this is twofold. When the babies from one brood leave the nest, the father continues to feed them and keep an eye on them while mother immediately lays the eggs for another brood. And, doves can live a very long time, as many as 19 years in the wild.