The Return of the Mourning Doves

by Kenneth Fuller
© 2007

 In the summer of 2003
 A pair of mourning doves built their nest among the geraniums in the window box, at the window of our front bedroom.

Now there is a long story behind this. The mourning dove (Zenaidura macroura) is a native species here in Southern
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 dove.

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.
crows assembling JPG
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.

eggs in the nest JPG
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 their nest.

dove on nest JPG
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.
Dove and young in nest.
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 first fledgling
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
some time.

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.
The nest basket.
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.
The young doves left on their own JPG
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. I took
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.

And then… 2005 February:
The mourning doves were back early for spring. And built their nest in the basket on the beam above the porch. I checked
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 neighbor’s roof.
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 JPG
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 this
building a nest in the rain gutter JPG
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 fed the
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

Fall flocks
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.
Flock under the tree JPG
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.

Kenneth Fuller
 Back Yard Biology < >

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