Doves appear throughout popular culture as symbols of love. They’re released at wedding ceremonies and pop up on cards around Valentine’s Day. The image of a pair of doves snuggling is synonymous with monogamous love.
But do doves really mate for life? Do they deserve their reputation as “love birds?”
The answer is yes and no. Some will pair up for life, and others will pair up for just one season.
So what about mourning? After all, they’re called mourning doves for a reason. Do they miss each other if one of them dies? Is that why they make that mournful sound?
We’ll answer all these questions, and more, coming right up!
Do All Species of Doves Mate for Life?
The vast majority of bird species in the world mate for life, and doves are included. Mating for the long term is more the rule than the exception.
There are dozens of species of doves, though the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is the most well-known in North America. The ring-necked turtle dove (Streptopelia capicola), the common ground dove (Columbina passerina), and the Eurasian colored dove (Streptopelia decaocto) are all common species.
Regardless of the species, all doves have the same mating habit. They primarily mate for life. However, there are rare instances when a pair will separate and find other partners.
But in most cases, when these birds find a mate they like, they stick with them to breed and raise young together. After the breeding season is over, they don’t usually stick together anymore. They’ll head off on their own for the winter and then pair back up the following year.
However, sometimes, doves will choose a different partner the following season. We aren’t sure why doves decide to make a switch, but it has been documented many times.
When we say “life,” that’s a relative term. While doves can live for up to 10 years, and one was recorded living for 31 years, most don’t. The average lifespan of a dove is a year and a half. So a pair might only be together for a season, which is the entirety of their lives.
Life is dangerous out there for doves, with lots of predators out there looking to make a meal out of them.
When Do Doves Mate?
Doves are sexually mature at one year of age. So, for the first year, they don’t do any breeding. Then, they start looking for their mate.
Doves start courting to find a mate in late winter so that they have plenty of time to mate and build a nest before the eggs are ready to be laid.
Most doves lay their first clutch of eggs in mid-spring, around April, in most areas of North America.
Then, the pair might separate for the rest of the season when they’re no longer laying eggs and raising the young. The next breeding season, they’ll usually re-unite.
How Do Doves Mate?
In order to entice a female, the male dove puts on quite a show. He will swoop around in the sky, flapping his wings to make lots of noise. For doves that primarily live on the ground, the male will try to attract a female by puffing out his chest, all while making those coo noises characteristic of doves and pigeons.
Once a pair decides they like each other, they join up and mate.
Now that they’re together, you can see them preening each other’s feathers and sticking together as they feed and explore. Eventually, the male will show the female some potential sites for building a nest in which to raise their young. The female will make the ultimate decision on where to build.
The female will get to work building the nest using materials that the male brings to her. The nest location depends on the species and the available locations, but you can find them anywhere from the ground to high up in the trees.
The nest is usually a loose cluster of twigs in a sort of platform-like arrangement.
Both parents will incubate the eggs, and both parents feed the chicks for the two or so weeks it takes for them to mature and leave the nest.
Doves can mate many times over the year, with a couple raising up to six broods each year in warmer areas.
What Happens If a Dove Loses Its Mate?
Researchers have documented mourning behavior in wild doves that lose a mate. It seems evident that they are aware of and do mourn the loss if their partner dies.
Once a bird loses its partner, it will start the process of finding a new one. That new partnership will last for life unless one of the birds dies.
The term “mourning” dove doesn’t come from this behavior, however. The reason that mourning doves are called that is that they make a mournful sound when they call each other.
That’s how you can tell the difference between a mourning dove and a different species of dove. They all have their own unique calls, but the mourning dove sounds distinctly like it is sad.
Don’t worry, they aren’t. Doves make those sounds when they are trying to find a mate and to communicate with each other.
Sometimes, when a dove loses its mate too late in the season to find another breeding partner, it will help another pair incubate and raise its young. This practice is known as cooperative breeding, and it helps ensure that the population will survive.
That bird may then go and find a new mate the following year.
Also Read: Dove vs Pigeon – All Differences
Do Doves Mate with Other Birds?
Doves won’t mate with other birds once they’ve paired up. They only mate with each other for the rest of their lives. A dove typically won’t ever leave its mate to find another.
Incidentally, if you were wondering if doves breed with other species of doves, the answer is no. A mourning dove won’t breed with a Eurasian collared dove, for instance.
Humans will sometimes foster these species-cross breedings, but doves won’t choose to do it on their own in the wild.