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Whooo's Out There? Mourning Doves Can Sound Like Owls

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

A “hoooo, hoo, hoo” outside your window can be exciting to hear. An owl is nearby and making its presence known! Sometimes, though, those sounds aren’t an owl at all. If you hear these sounds in the morning or during the day, it’s very well the cooing of mourning doves nearby.

Mourning doves. (Photo via Shutterstock)

A mournful song

A mourning dove’s call is often confused with an owl’s hoot. This is why the time of day is important in animal identification. Owls are typically nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. Mourning doves are diurnal, strutting around during the day. This means a hooting call during the day is more likely to be a mourning dove than an owl.

A mourning dove’s call is a little mournful, or sad, which is where they get their name. They also make a cool wing sound when they start to fly or land. Check out their different sounds.

Ground seed eaters

You might overlook the mourning dove because they are so common in Will County. Visit any bird feeder, and chances are you can find them on the ground underneath. They love eating seeds off the ground. When they grab food, they might not eat the seeds right away. Instead they are stockpiling seeds to digest later. The seeds collect in their crop, which is a swollen part of their esophagus. Their esophagus connects the mouth to the stomach.

Bird ID

Look closely. Do you see the turquoise eye ring and coral legs? (Photo via Shutterstock)

Right away, you can identify mourning doves by their small heads, large bodies and long tails. They look a little muted, sporting soft gray-brown feathers with black spots on their wings. But look closer. They have a beautiful turquoise blue eye ring, and their feet are a stunning coral pink. Their shoulder feathers are iridescent.

Mother’s milk

When mourning doves pair up, they tend to mate for life. Females build a nest, while the males collect all the stuff like twigs needed to construct it. They almost always lay two eggs.

Once the babies hatch, they feed on something called crop milk. Also known as pigeon milk, it looks like cottage cheese and is rich in protein and fat. But what is it? It is actually the lining of the mourning dove’s crop, where they store seeds.

Newly hatched mourning doves can’t digest seeds right away. So parents don’t eat for a few days before their babies hatch. Mom and Dad feed the hatchlings their crop milk for about a week after they hatch. The adults still don’t eat any food during this time. Talk about dedication! Finally, in the babies’ second week, the parents start eating seeds again to introduce to the babies. After two weeks, youngsters are only slightly smaller than their parents. It’s time for them to leave the nest.

Keep away, predators!

Cooper’s hawks and other falcons find mourning doves to be delicious. Because they don’t want to be lunch, the doves have adapted to be difficult to hunt. One way is with speed. They can fly at 45 mph to 55 mph!

Cowbirds are also a threat to mourning doves, but for a different reason. Cowbird parents leave their eggs in other birds’ nests. An unrelated bird will incubate and raise the cowbird. Often, cowbird hatchlings are bigger and sometimes take up all the food. Unlike most birds, mourning dove parents can spot a cowbird egg about one third of the time. They will push the cowbird egg out of their nest. Even if the cowbird hatches, they don’t do well on the seed diet.

Listen for soft hooting or cooing sounds as you hang out by bird feeders on these winter days. It’s not an owl, but it is just as great – a mourning dove!

Don’t have a bird feeder of your own? Visit the bird feeder stations at Isle a la Cache Museum, Monee Reservoir and Plum Creek Nature Center.

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