Do Mourning Doves Migrate?


Mourning doves, one of the most numerous birds in North America, are migratory but it depends on their location. They are known as “partial migrators”.  

The migratory pattern is from north to south to find better weather conditions and more abundant food sources.

migrating mourning dove

Where Are Mourning Doves Found?

Mourning doves are found across the United States, Mexico and Canada, as well as there being equivalent breeds in pretty much every other country around the world! Breeding pairs of mourning doves are prevalent in every state of America (Hawaii included), and even on rare occasions in a place as potentially environmentally-hostile as Alaska.

a mourning dove

It is estimated that there is in excess of 400 million mourning doves in the United States alone. Having such a wide range, it’s not surprising that there is some regional variation in character and mourning doves do not all follow the same uniform migration pattern.  

Let’s examine the question of whether or not mourning doves are migratory birds. How do they spend their winters and summers?

A Question of Location

Mourning doves fall under a category of birds that are termed ‘partial migrants’.

In the northernmost regions of the United States and Canada, most of the breeding population is migratory.

They fly south in the fall season to warmer climes and return to their breeding grounds in the north when spring comes back around.

sad mourning dove

In the central and southern states and Mexico, where it is generally much warmer year-round, it is much more common to have populations of mourning doves that remain primarily resident in their native areas.

Mourning doves migrate over landmass, always following typical ‘flyways’ which are established routes in the sky that are used by lots of different species of migratory birds.

A huge number of birds make a transit across the north of the USA, with their preferred destination wintering grounds being states across the south of the country and further down into Mexico.

How Do Mourning Doves Migrate?

Typically, mourning doves will leave their northern territories in very large flocks and fly in unison down to the southern states and into Mexico.

They are particularly known to fly at a relatively low altitude compared to other species.

They travel during daylight hours and stop to rest overnight before taking off in flock formation the next morning.

Generally, younger birds leave first, followed by females, and then lastly the males begin their journeys.

In What Month Do Mourning Doves Migrate?

The mourning doves that are migratory will typically leave their northern home ranges between late August and early September.

This is the time of the year when average temperatures in the north begin to drop. Also, leaving it any later to begin a long journey they might run the risk of food resources along the early part of the route becoming dangerously depleted.

The return journey is made in March and April when the birds return to their northern home for the nesting season.

In general, mourning doves mate for life and will return to a previously successful nesting site.

Why Do Mourning Doves Migrate?

Many species across the entire animal kingdom migrate, from whales to wildebeest.

They migrate either to find a new food source when their own is seasonally affected (by weather normally) or to breed.

Some migrations are short in nature and may be for a limited time but many creatures make spectacular epic journeys crossing oceans and continents.

mourning dove eating seeds

Although moving from north to south doesn’t sound epic, when you consider that in the case of the mourning dove it could be from Alaska to Texas or Mexico, it is.  

Mourning doves in the north of the United States and Canada annually migrate to southern regions to avoid the harshest of weather conditions of the winter months.

Not only is the weather uncomfortable with harsh winds and below-freezing temperatures, but the conditions also cause food shortages.

More central and southerly states are warmer and have food in abundance, even in winter. These are not worries that are as pressing in warmer climates down south.

How Far Do Mourning Doves Migrate?

Doves who live in the far north will often end up migrating for thousands of miles before arriving at their desired destination in the south of the country or even Mexico.

This doesn’t mean that migration is a behavior restricted to northern-dwelling mourning doves. Some flocks may only move a few hundred miles away from their resident bases.

How Long Does Migration Take?

It is virtually impossible to accurately track how long it takes a single mourning dove to migrate, and this is down to a number of different factors including:

  • individual distance covered
  • number of stops
  • duration of the stops.

Research has estimated that a migrating mourning dove can cover a flying distance of more than 110 miles in a single day.

Do Mourning Doves Fly Nonstop?

No, mourning doves do not fly nonstop from northern ranges to southern or Mexican ranges.

The birds take regular breaks during their journey in order to rest and feed.

mourning dove having a drink

Migration tends to be an unhurried process, and though mourning doves have been recorded in the past as being able to fly as speeds of more than 55 miles per hour, it is very unlikely that that kind of extreme pace will be something that they can sustain over an extended distance of hundreds or thousands of miles.

The Downside of Migration

The migration period coincides with the dove hunting season in the USA.

As a migratory bird, mourning doves can only legally be hunted during the official season which begins on  September 1st.

Legal hunting of mourning doves is permitted in 37 states and an estimated 20 million are shot every year.

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