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Winter 2012

Urban Jungle

The changing natural world at our doorsteps | Illustration and text by Patterson Clark      

January 24, 2012

Mourning doves: Gluttons of the bird feeder


Few birds can clean out a bird feeder faster than a mourning dove, which can eat as much as 20 percent of its body weight* in food per day.

To do this, doves need easy access to the chow. A feeder with a perch, a platform feeder or birdfeed simply strewn onto the ground will do the trick. Flat, bare ground works best. Doves don't scratch for food, so they need to be able to walk around and gorge on visible morsels.

Mourning doves eat seeds: grass seeds, weed seeds, flower seeds, pine nuts and their favorite, corn and other grains, which they will eagerly stuff into their crop.

The crop is a digestive storage organ that slowly releases food into the gizzard, where seeds are ground into an easily digestible mash. To aid the grinding, the birds consume small stones — and even tiny glass fragments — that collect in the gizzard.

In winter, the walls of a dove's crop are thin and translucent, but when breeding begins in the spring, the crop's inner layers thicken, slough off and break down to form crop milk, which both parents regurgitate into the mouths of their chicks, or squabs.

Formation of crop milk begins to subside a few days after the squabs hatch, giving them a bit of time to adjust to a diet of raw seeds. The parents supply those seeds for almost a month, until the squab has learned to feed independently. One percent of a dove's diet includes animal parts, usually snails, which parents eat during the nesting season, probably to provide an extra nutritional boost for their hungry squabs.

* The average dove weighs 121 grams — a quarter-pounder.

Source: Ecology and Management of the Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura.