In the summer of 2003
A pair of mourning doves built their nest among the geraniums in
window box, at the window of our front bedroom.
Now there is a long story behind this.
dove (Zenaidura macroura) is a native species here in
California. But early in the 20th century someone released Chinese
spotted doves (Streptopelia chinensis) in Los Angeles.
The spotted doves had driven the mourning doves out of the lower
elevations of the Los Angeles basin.
In the 70’s and 80’s, we always had spotted doves in our yard and
nesting in the neighbors’ trees, many spotted doves.
When I started my web site, “Back
Yard Biology”, in 2001, I wanted a better picture of a spotted
There were none! I thought
maybe they had left this immediate area because so many of the larger
trees had been cut
down. So I looked in other neighborhoods, I looked in parks. In talking
with others I found that the spotted dove had
completely disappeared from all of Orange County, and from much if not
all Los Angeles County.
The most widely accepted theory is that the population explosion of
nest robbing crows
(Corvus brachyrhynchos) during
the 90’s simply ate the spotted dove to extinction. This left the
territory open for the return of the mourning dove,
which it appears is better able to protect it young from the crows.
Here crows assembling on a nearby athletic field in preparation
for their evening commute to their roost.
This is only a portion of the
crows in this assembly.
It was late in July that I first noticed the pair of mourning doves
investigating the flower box at the window of our front
bedroom. They made a little hollow between the ivy geraniums and the
window sill, where they built a flimsy token of a
nest. Being essentially ground nesting birds, doves seldom construct
much of a nest.
The male had a peculiar feather which
allowed me to identify the individuals, but only until the next molt.
The female spent time in the nest during the day, but at
night it was left empty.
On the evening of the 27th of August there was one egg in the nest. On
the evening of the 28th there were two eggs.
The eggs in the nest. (The window screen adds texture.)
The next day the doves began brooding. They took turns on the nest. The
returning bird would give a quiet call then sit nearby
until it was judged safe to trade places without giving away the
location of the nest. Even though they were aware that I
knew where it was, it was rare that I actually saw the exchange.
As long as the window was closed, and we didn’t make
quick movements, it didn’t seem to bother them as we looked down into
A dove on the nest, through the window.
We even placed a stepstool by the window so our grandchildren could
see. I took pictures, which are on my web site .
Outside, we spoke when approaching, so as not to startle them. I was
able to work in the garden right under the nest, and
even run the lawn mower past without disturbing them. After they
hatched, the little ones were kept out of sight under the
parent. To feed them the parent would stick its bill down under its
feathers, where the young could reach in and get pigeon
milk without being exposed.
On the 15th of September we first saw the head of one the young. Then
we saw more and more of the two nestlings as the
days went by, until they were left alone much of the time. All the time
they were in the nest, there was never a peep from
the little ones.
On the 27th the parents would sit across the yard and call to the
fledglings. On the 28th we saw the first flight
of the older fledgling, and the next day the first flight of the other.
As the days went by, the tails of the young grew out until
we could no longer distinguish the young from their parents.
The male dove with the two young in the nest.
It was fascinating to see the eggs and watch the fledglings grow,
then test their wings, and finally take flight. It was also fun
watching the kids watching the birds.
And then! in 2004
The doves came back
March 2004 The mourning doves had been visiting
the window box from time to time for weeks. On the 6th of March, they
began to “build” a nest. On the 10th we saw the
first egg. We figured the young hatched about the 21st . I first saw a
little one on the 29th. From the 6th of April the two
young were often left alone in the nest.
April 7th , after considerable hesitation, and many false starts, the
sailed across the lawn to the insistent calling of its parents. That
night the two young were left alone in the nest. The next day
the second took its first flight. Both returned to the nest for the
last time that night. But we continued to see them around for
The second brood of 2004
By the 16th of April the pair of adults were thinking about their
next brood. But they decided on a change in location.
Obviously they were not concerned by all bustling about and spying on
their nest. They were trying to build a nest on top of
the porch light beside the front door. (I wonder, if I left the door
open would they have come inside?) The top of the light
simply would not hold a nest, especially of their flimsy type. The
pieces kept falling off. And the opening screen door came
much too close. I convinced the doves that a nest there just wouldn’t
work. That, or else they just gave up.
Later in the day,
the pair had decided on a four inch beam under the eves on the porch.
But every time they took flight, they blew the nesting
material away. So, I tied a shallow basket to the beam. The doves were
delighted! They stepped right in, and began
constructing a nest.
A dove in the nest basket.
They happily raised their brood as close to our front door as they
could get. We could no long see the eggs in the nest without
using a mirror on a long handle, and the parents objected to that. By
April 19th the doves were brooding. On May 15th, the
young were left by themselves in the nest.
Nestlings left on their own.
The first fledgling took
flight on 16th. The second on the 18th. Apparently the nest
location was too difficult for inexperienced flyers to return. Though
we saw the young around the yard for a few days.
the basket down and cleaned it out.
The doves made it clear that I should put it back on the beam. On May
26th, they started the new nest for their last brood of
the season, unless they nested somewhere else. They started brooding on
the 30th or 31st. One fledgling flew on the 25th of
June. The other on the 28th.
The mourning doves were back early for spring. And built their nest in
the basket on the beam above the porch.
the nest on 8 Feb. there were no eggs yet.
On the 9th the birds began setting on the nest.
On Mar. 8th , the young were left in
the nest, and they were flapping their wings.
On the 9th the young were out of the nest, we saw them on the
By Mar. 18th the doves were setting on the nest again.
Apr. 12th we could see the little ones.
The 17th the first fledgling left
the nest, on the 18th the other.
May 12th the birds were setting again.
June 5th we saw the young, and they were left alone
some of the time.
June 10th the young left the nest.
A fledgling on the porch under the nest.
June 15th there was one egg in the nest, but the doves never returned.
It seems most likely that something tragic happened to the female.
We heard the male calling through the spring. Sometimes he would come
to the porch and call from there. Then we saw the
pair visit the porch several times, but no nest. The male was
apparently having difficulty convincing the new female that the
porch was a safe place for a nest.
They finally built a nest on top of the block wall in back, where the
neighbors tree drooped
over, giving a little shelter. There were two eggs in the nest when it
was abandoned. They discovered that it was not as safe as
it looked. Cats like to walk along that wall.
So, finally they built a nest in the basket on the porch beam. May 17th
they began setting. Since this female seemed more
skittish than the former one, we did not observe as closely as in the
past. June 14th , the first fledgling left the nest. The 2nd
left the next day.
The pair did not return to the basket on the porch.
On Jul. 6th, I discovered that the doves had built their next
nest in the end of the rain gutter, where it turned under the eves of
the garage, on the far side. It was in a location which made
it difficult to observe. They seem to have raised the brood
successfully in spite of a brief rain on Jul. 23rd, very unusual for
Building a nest in the rain gutter.
In early April the doves were back, and built their nest in the
basket on the porch beam. They began brooding about the 13th.
The second fledgling left the nest on May 13th.
By May 24th, the doves on the porch were brooding their next two eggs.
On May 26th, I found a skimpy nest with two eggs in the garden under
the rain gutter end, where there had been a nest the
year before. I carefully placed the nest and eggs back in the gutter.
This second pair of doves were on their nest until the 7th
of June. Each time we went or came in the car, the setting bird would
peek over the edge of the gutter. But on the 7th I found
that the nest had been pulled into the exposed front gutter. There was
no sign of its occupants. Probably a cat, perhaps a raccoon,
had found it.
Meanwhile, back on the front porch, June 17th, the young were left
alone for the night. On the 22nd we saw an adult calling
from across the yard, and the first fledgling down on the porch. On the
23rd the adults have been forth and back many times
to the remaining fledgling. They would call from across the yard for a
while, then up to the nest, where they made sounds I’d
never heard before, then back across the yard. There were pine needles
on the porch under the nest. It seems the parents were
anxious to refurbish the nest for their next brood.
In the evening the parents gave in, both of them went to the nest and
recalcitrant fledgling. The next morning the young one was gone from
the nest before I checked on it.
The evening of June 25th, the nest had one egg in it. On the 26th the
doves were setting full time.
July 2nd I observed a young
dove (the recalcitrant one?), in the nest with the brooding parent! By
the 19th the new fledglings were being left for extended
In past years I had frequently seen two or more doves in the tangelo
tree out side our bedroom window. They were the recent
young and or the parents from the nest in front. In September 2007, I
began to see a fall flock of mourning doves, four to
twenty, in the tangelo daily. Mostly during the middle of the day. On
my walks, in the last few years, small groups of doves are
being replaced by more numerous and larger fall flocks.
The flock of doves under the tangelo tree.
Perhaps the mourning dove is more successful than the spotted dove
because they nest closer to people than crows are brave
enough to venture.