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Living Sanibel: Mourning dove, common ground dove abundant in SW Florida

By Staff | Mar 2, 2016

Mourning doves. PHOTO BY RICHARD FORTUNE

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

With a total population in the United States of approximately 350 million birds-even with an annual harvest of more than 20 million doves by hunters (2 million are taken in Florida alone)-the mourning dove is in no imminent danger of extinction. Although impressive, these numbers pale in comparison with its extinct cousin, the passenger pigeon, whose numbers at the time of European contact have been estimated at 5 to 7 billion.

The mourning dove has two characteristics that distinguish it from its European relative, the Eurasian collared-dove: it is the dove responsible for the familiar ooah, woo, woo, woo call; and it whistles when it takes flight. It is also considerably smaller, but that difference can be easy to miss when either bird is in motion.

A highly adaptable bird, the mourning dove has flourished under the environmental changes brought on by mankind. It has learned to live comfortably in urban, suburban, and agricultural settings. Across Southwest Florida the mourning dove is ubiquitous, seen perched on telephone wires, sign posts, and almost any tall tree.

It feeds predominantly on grains and seeds, and it can be found filling its crop with sandy grit along almost any unpaved road. The grit assists in digesting the various seeds and fruits the dove thrives on. It is also famous for its “crop milk” or “pigeon’s milk,” which it regurgitates and feeds to its chicks for the first few weeks after hatching.

Common ground dove. PHOTO BY BLAKE SOBCZAK

The mourning dove is preyed upon by falcons, bobcats, and sportsmen. It is monogamous, often pairing for life, and it nests in individual nesting sites, often in very unusual places. It is the most heavily hunted game bird in Florida.

Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina)

The translation of its scientific name accurately describes this beautiful, small bird: sparrow-like dove. The underside of the common ground-dove has a reddish hue, and its wings have gray, brown, and purplish spots. It is an attractive bird and relatively common throughout Southwest Florida. The ground-dove is readily spotted at Harn’s Marsh in Lee County and along the Indigo Trail at J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Most often seen in pairs or groups of four, it is usually happened upon by accident as it feeds along shell-covered hiking trails or gravel roads. Because of its diminutive size, the ground-dove is easy to distinguish from either of the region’s two larger doves.

When disturbed it tends to fly a short distance and land, only to do the same thing again and again until it finally turns and flies behind you. Like its larger cousins, the ground-dove feeds on seeds, grains, and small berries. It is monogamous, and it is widely believed that pairs mate for life. Because of its small size, the ground-dove is seldom hunted.

This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.