While sitting and waiting for mourning doves to fly by during hunting season, I find myself thinking about the journey these birds have embarked on and from where they have come. More times than I would like to admit, I think about the birds I missed and where they are going. For this article, I’ll discuss mourning dove migration, focusing on the south-central portion of the United States, starting with the breeding stage.
Mourning doves are classified as a migratory bird and are regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in conjunction with Mexico and Canada. Most mourning doves that migrate through southern Oklahoma and northern Texas breed in the Great Plains states, such as North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The remaining migrating doves that pass through Oklahoma and Texas breed in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and Canada. However, not all mourning doves migrate. This is more common in southern latitudes, especially Texas.
Nesting in the central United States peaks around mid-May and can continue until early September. Mourning doves are monogamous for at least the breeding season and possibly for multiple breeding seasons. They will return to the same breeding location and have even been documented to use the same nest in successive years.
After pairing up for breeding, male mourning doves acquire nest material for the female to construct the nest. Mourning doves are generalists in relation to nesting habitat, however, they tend to nest along edges of woodlands, rangelands and croplands. They nest on the ground or in trees, but usually only after trees have completely leafed out. Common trees or shrubs mourning doves use for nesting are elms, hackberries, mesquite, Osage orange, Eastern red-cedar, plums and oaks.
The majority of birds start fall migration in mid-August and continue to arrive on the wintering grounds in Oklahoma, Texas, Mexico and sometimes Central America through October. They spend the winter feeding around cropland areas and natural plant communities, consuming primarily seed from plants such as corn, sorghum, wheat, johnsongrass, crotons, annual sunflowers and ragweeds. Mourning doves stay on their wintering grounds until about March, when they initiate their migration north to nesting areas until the end of May.
Some things managers can do locally to benefit mourning doves are to create and maintain desirable areas for nesting and provide food and water. See the articles Mourning Dove Abundance Can Be Managed and Water Sources Can Be Managed to Benefit Mourning Dove for more information. For nesting habitat, creating or maintaining edge, shrubs and trees is important to ensure plenty of suitable nest sites. Promoting seed-producing plants such as forbs by reducing use of herbicides, grazing, burning, disking or planting is a common practice to increase food for mourning doves. It is probably most important to provide food for fall and winter when most mourning doves are in our area and food can be scarce. Maintaining and creating water sources close to feeding areas can improve suitability for mourning doves.
Migrating mourning doves make long trips between breeding and wintering grounds. We can help them along the way by providing nesting habitat, food and water.