The mourning dove’s winter range is moving north, according to avid birders who have kept wildlife feeding stations going the past 30 years.

In the 1980s, the doves were still not seen often in the Twin Cities winter landscape. Now, they are a common sight at feeding stations here and even farther north.

In summer, mourning doves are seen from Alaska to south into Mexico. They are rarely seen in the northeastern part of Minnesota because they prefer farmlands or other open lands with scattered trees and shrubs. Minnesota mourning doves begin moving southward in mid-September to areas south of Iowa. Banded mourning doves from Minnesota have been found in Texas, suggesting at least some of our summer residents migrate to that area. They migrate mostly by day, and have completely migrated by early December.

Pairs of mourning doves are commonly seen in the summer on utility wires or picking up gravel on the ground along roadsides. The birds are about a foot in length and have small heads and long, pointed tails. They are gray and brown, their tails bordered with white spots. The females are a bit smaller than the males, and their flight is swift and direct.

They are ground-feeding birds; 98 percent of their diet consists of seeds. They require a fair amount of grit because of all the seed. They eat enormous numbers of the “weed seeds” in fields and waste places.

At feeding stations, the doves like millet and cracked corn, scattered on the ground, preferably near trees and shrubs with low branches that offer good roosting and protective cover. They also eat a few berries and insects.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.