A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Our most common pigeon-like bird that isn't a pigeon--and one of the more common birds in Sonoma county (and the United States as a whole). Common in wooded and edge environments throughout the county, including farms, parks, and suburban settings. Common feeder visitor, where it forages on the ground for seed other birds drop. Nests in most parts of the county. Normally has two to three broods each year, but may have as many as six, according to The Birder's Handbook. Often seen in pairs or small flocks. This bird has nested in my own suburban Santa Rosa garden (2010) and is regular visitor to my feeders. Often seen perched on wires or in trees, but also commonly seen foraging on the ground for the seeds that make up most of its diet.

A slender, pale brownish dove, paler under the tail, with black spots on the wing coverts. At close range, a pale blue orbital ring is obvious (but often overlooked in the field). Dark spot on the face at the base of the auriculars. Dark bill, pink feet. In flight, may be recognized by its fast, strong, straight (although sometimes sharply veering) flight and its long, pointed tail. Wings are a fairly uniform brown. Shorter tail feathers surrounding the longest ones are tipped with white and often fan to create an elongated diamond shape. When flushed, rapid wing beats produce a characteristic whistling sound that is almost sufficient to identify this bird. 

Mourning Dove's closest relative in North America is White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica). White-winged Dove breeds as far north as southeastern California and southern Nevada, but does not normally occur in Sonoma County (there was a sighting in neighboring Marin County, in Bolinas, by Walter Kiundu on  June 20, 2011). Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) is a considerably larger, plumper medium to dark grey bird with a broad tail. Mourning Dove is probably most likely to be confused with the introduced species Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto), which is gaining ground here at the expense of Mourning Dove (photo below). Eurasian Collared Dove is a pale putty color rather than the warm grey to pinkish-tinged brown of Mourning Dove. It has a black half-collar at the back of the neck, which Mourning Dove lacks. Its tail is not as pointed as that of Mourning Dove, and, in flight, the primaries of Eurasian Collared Dove are darker than the rest of the wing, although that feature can be hard to see. Eurasian Collared Dove has a fine, white orbital ring rather than the more substantial, blue orbital ring of Mourning Dove. Voices differ as well. The Mourning Dove coos slowly and mournfully, usually giving a breathy two-note phrase followed by a short pause and then a three-note phrase, something like coo-ah, coo-COO-coo. Eurasian Collared Dove repeats a flatter, faster three-note phrase that sounds like cooCOO-coop, cooCOO-coop, cooCOO-coop (links below).

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 70

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 242

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 76

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 244

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 266

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 314-315

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 278

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 200

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 227

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 196

Kaufman, Field Guide to Advanced Birding, 2011, pp. 20, 27, 109, 112

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 148-149, 294

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 41

Peterson, Birds of Eastern and Central North America, 5th ed., 2002, p. 196

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 207

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 208

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 221

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 383

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 193

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Mourning Dove

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Eurasian Collared Dove




© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


For comparison: Eurasian Collared Dove--Note pale color; wider,

squarish tail; collar at back of neck. Sebastopol Community Center, Morris St., Sebastopol, June 2, 2011

The very different silhouettes of Mourning Dove (right) and Eurasian Collared Dove (left). The bird in the center is the Rock Dove (Pigeon)

Mourning Dove

Zenaida macroura

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated July 28, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Mourning Dove, Stone Castle Lane, Santa Rosa, May 10, 2011