The Doves First Visit

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. 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 drove 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.


Crows assembling on a nearby athletic field in preparation for their evening commute to their roost. This is only a portion of the birds.

It was late in July that I first noticed the pair of mourning doves investigating the flower box at the window. 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 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.

dove nest

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. We even placed a stepstool by the window so our grandchildren could see. I took pictures, which are on my web site, Back Yard Biology 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.

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…

3 Responses to “The Doves First Visit”

  1. Dennis Fuller Says:

    What fun to have morning doves in your window box!

  2. april flack Says:

    I had a mourning dove nest in my daughters window about a week now. First noticed one egg then the other. I have one of those old fashion screens that prop under the window. The bird doesn’t seem to mind me getting that close as long as I don’t touch screen. I’am concerned though because I am moving September 1st and my landlord will probably move the nest because he is a jerk. I was wondering what should I feed it or should I just let nature take its course. Thank you

    April Flack

  3. Ruth Says:

    We seem to have a pair of mourning doves nesting in our windowbox on the 5th floor overlooking a park in New York City. Very sweet. She doesn’t seem particularly shy of us. At first I thought she liked sitting among my pansies, coriander, and dill because of the beauty and sweet smell, but maybe she just feels safe here. I don’t think we can water these plants anymore, so we’ll let them go for the sake of this lovely mommy and her future fledglings.

    She’s been visiting, sitting, then leaving again for at least 5 days with no eggs. Well, maybe there are eggs today–she’s sitting very low and fluffy.

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