The sleek brownish-gray Mourning dove is a common year-round resident in East Brunswick and can be found just about anywhere. Mourning doves are very easy to identify, with their pretty grayish brown colors and a small head. In flight, at least at first glance, they can often be mistaken for a small hawk, with their rapid direct flight, long pointy wings and long tail.

Mourning doves don't typically visit feeders but will readily forage on the ground beneath them on whatever has spilled out. Spreading a few handfuls of bird seed on the ground or some other flat surface is another easy way to attract them. The gentle "cooing" call of the Mourning dove is one of the most recognizable calls around my yard each year, often heard from before sunrise and then all through the day until it gets dark in the evening. Besides the cardinal and the robin, it is usually the first bird I hear each morning. Mourning doves are exceptionally swift fliers and their wings make a distinctive "whirring" sound as they take off. 

In the late 1800's bird identification was becoming an increasingly favorite past time of many people. With this focus, many new bird guides were being published. Most of these began to use field-marks to split and identify species, but binoculars were not readily available and birding with a gun was still quite in vogue. The field guides often provided useful field-marks for identifying a bird in the hand after it had been shot and most only had a few rudimentary line drawings. It wouldn't be until 1934 when Roger Tory Peterson would publish his first Field Guide to the Birds with paintings of all the species covered, that there would be a sea-change and the focus would really shift to identification of birds in the field. One of the cross-over books between the late 1800's and Peterson's ground breaking field guide, was Frank M. Chapman's Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America first published in 1909.

Chapman's Handbook still retained the writing prose that was a mainstay of earlier natural history works and detailed descriptions of each bird, but also included drawings illustrating various key field marks and birds. I really like his description of the Mourning dove "During the nesting season they may be found in pairs, generally in open woodlands or tree-bordered fields. They also visit roads and lanes to dust themselves. The sweet, sad call of the male has won for this species its common name; it consists of several soft coos, which may be written: coo-0-0, ah-coo-0-0--coo-o-o--coo-o-o. Under favorable circumstances these notes may be heard at a distance of at least two hundred and fifty yards; they are uttered slowly and tenderly, and with such apparent depth of feeling that one might easily imagine the bird was mourning the loss of his mate, instead of singing a love song to her."

Mourning doves can be found in all of our parks and neighborhoods and even in our most developed urban areas along Route 18. Learn their easy to recognize calls and use the Friends Online Guide to East Brunswick Parks to find some places to look and listen for them. The Guide is available at: For more information about Mourning doves visit the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology website at

Published on the EB Patch, 15 February 2012


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