Brooklyn Bird Watch: Mourning Dove

Informally known as the Turtle Dove, the Mourning Dove is one of the most abundant of North America’s birds. The Mourning Dove is called ‘mourning’ because of its sad, haunting coo, and the whistling sound its wings make. Even with a name synonymous with sorrow, the Mourning Dove evokes the same association as its White Dove cousin: a spiritual messenger of peace, love, and faith.

I have something to add about how the bird got its name, tracing back to Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, an ornithologist.

The Mourning Dove’s scientific name, Zenaida macroura, is from 18th-century French Royalty. Napolean Bonaparte’s brother, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, was an ornithologist and married Napolean’s niece, Princess Zanaide. In 1838 he gave the Mourning Dove its scientific name in honor of his wife.

As in many locales in the United States, Central Florida is abundant with Mourning Doves. While watching Mourning Doves I’ve always had the feeling that they don’t seem to be as nervous as other bird species around humans. That could, of course, just be my imagination at work because Mourning Doves are definitely cautious.

I recently read a story online about a pair of Mourning Doves that built a nest on top of an air-conditioner. The writer of the story, a homeowner, questioned the logic of building a nest in such an open space. His interest was understandable, for example, considering how frenetically cautious the Mockingbirds are when they select a location in a thick bush for the nests they build in early Spring. (More about the Northern Mockingbird another time).

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The writer of the story about the Mourning Doves said at first he thought it was not a very intelligent thing for a bird to do, but then he said he thought about it and figured out the bird’s logic. He concluded the decision to build on top of an air-conditioner was not a bad idea after all. Other birds, potential predators for example, would naturally be very reluctant to visit or spend any amount of time so close to humans, so therefore, it made sense, and time proved it was a safe place for the nest.


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