Yes, you can eat Mourning Dove.
Although pigeon may have mostly fallen out of favour as a commercial meat, both pigeons and doves are widely hunted in the UK and even more so in the USA and even though it’s a sport, the meat is commonly eaten by hunters or sold for consumption.
Mourning doves are the most hunted bird in North America and some might say they are “a game bird born to be eaten.”
An Abundance of Mourning Doves
The mourning dove is one of North America’s most abundant birds. Its large population is widespread across the continent and its number is estimated at 200 million.
This number is remarkable considering the bird is the most sought-after prey by human hunters, and in the dove hunting season every year, some 20 million mourning doves are killed.
They have a short life span (just 1.5 years on average) but also have a robust and prolific rate of reproduction.
Though mourning doves alone produce a pair of eggs in each nest, mating pairs can actually produce up to five broods every single year from March to November. With eggs taking just two weeks to hatch, you can see how this healthy population never really experiences a significant dip.
In many ways, the ecological role of a mourning dove is essentially to be prey for larger predators, and you can think of humans as just another in line for them. They are born to be eaten by various animals, and humans happen to be on top of that particular food chain!
Setting up the Hunt
Hunting is a big sport in America and while there are shooters who prefer to hunt alone, it is generally a sociable activity.
Hunters make pre-season preparations by planting seed-rich crops that mourning doves are known to favour, such as millet and sorghum.
When the season opens, the group knows the best times to go dove hunting and it becomes a coordinated event with hunters meticulously placed so that even if their shots miss, the doves fly into the sights of the next hunter along.
Many doves may be shot in one session but one bird is basically one meal for one person.
What Is It Like To Eat A Mourning Dove?
Those who like to partake regularly will tell you that the mourning dove can be a very tasty species.
Compared to something like a chicken or a pheasant, the mourning dove can be considered a small morsel, so it takes a handful of birds to actually prepare a sufficient enough meal, and sometimes more work in the preparation stage than some would have the patience to bother with!
It is recommended that you bleed out the bird’s body to remove a lot of the ‘gamey’ taste from the meat that some might find too overpowering. This can be done by removing the head quickly after hunting in order to drain the blood away from the chest cavity.
This produces a striking visual difference in the breast meat and also a change in flavour.
Many hunters learn how to dress a dove as this guarantees a better quality meal.
How to Cook Mourning Dove
Make sure not to overcook mourning dove meat, as it can dry out incredibly quickly and this also enhances the gamey flavour!
Like pigeon, a couple of dove breasts will provide a starter, while one bird is a generous entrée/main.
Just like you can eat pigeon, pheasant or partridge in various ways, so you can mourning dove. Where you find a pigeon recipe, you can easily substitute mourning dove. Quail recipes are also a good option as these too are “single-serving” birds.
As a game bird, the meat has a strong deep flavour so it can take on bold flavours from heady spices to rich berry fruits. Seasonal autumnal foods like root vegetables and apples and pears also pair very well.
Mourning Dove Recipes
These are assembled by placing sliced dove breast on top of a halved and de-seeded jalapeno pepper, with some cream cheese spread inside.
This is then wrapped in bacon and placed on a hot grill until cooked through. To tell you the truth, our mouths are watering reading that description!
From Field to Plate
In response to the thousands of recommendations for dove poppers, the website From Field to Plate has published 5 dove recipes that don’t involve wrapping the game meat in bacon. It also provides some excellent instruction on how to prepare the dove meat in various ways including plucking, skinning, breasting and grinding.
One of the great game bird dishes of the world is the Moroccan Pastilla. It is a filo pastry pie usually with a filling of pigeon meat but this is easily substituted with mourning dove meat.
If you want to explore the culinary options of the mourning dove, here are a few useful links:
- Fried Whole Mourning Doves
- Grilled Doves Portuguese Style
- Whole Dove With paprika and Butter
- Must-try Dove Recipes
- Dove Recipes
The Case for Hunting
Mourning doves are an abundant bird and hunting is little threat to their population numbers. They can therefore be considered somewhat a sustainable food source that does minimal environmental damage.