Gardening for Birds – Planting for Mourning Doves


Tony Alter from Newport News, USA, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Julianne Labreche, Master Gardeners of Ottawa-Carleton

If my bedroom window is open, one of the best ways to wake up on a summer morning is to hear the sound of mourning doves cooing softly outside in the garden. To my ears, at least, their sounds are sorrowful but also sweet.

Mourning doves are a graceful, medium-sized bird with a long, slender tail, a full, rounded breast, and a small head. Their plumage is peachy-brown and gray, with black spots on their wings. These doves have a thin black beak and pinkish legs and feet, which help to distinguish them from other doves. Usually, I see these birds travelling together in pairs as they mate for life.

Mourning doves are seed-eating birds that forage for seeds on the ground. They are not insect eaters. If you put out feeders, they can only feed from a platform or a ground feeder because of their size and shape. Certainly, they are helpful birds for any gardener because their diet includes weed seeds. While they gather many seeds by foraging, they do not eat them immediately but store seeds in their crop for later digestion.

Because mourning doves forage on the ground and tend to be slow-moving, they are easy prey for outdoor cats lurking nearby. They have other predators as well. According to the Cornell Lab for Ornithology, they are one of the most widespread birds in North America and are also the most frequently hunted game species.

Planting dense shrubs or evergreen trees can provide them with protective nesting sites as well as a safe habitat.

To attract mourning doves to your garden and as a natural alternative to feeder food, consider growing grains and edible seeds. These seeds can be sown either directly in the ground or in a large container.

In addition, here are a few native perennial plant suggestions:

Switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

This tall North American native grass, growing up to two metres, turns an attractive red colour in the fall. Ground-feeding birds, including mourning doves, eat the fallen seeds from its showy seed plumes. It grows in full sun to part shade, preferring medium to wet soil. Switch grass grows in loam, sand, or coarse soil.

Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis)

This is a compact Ohio goldenrod plant that is not aggressive. It grows to about a metre high, with an exuberant yellow floral display and many small seeds. It benefits from full sun and grows in clay, sand, loam, organic, or coarse soil. Although not native to our region, it is a North American plant that grows well in my garden.

Grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

These coneflowers grow about a metre high. Their vibrant yellow flowers attract many bees, butterflies, and beneficial insects. They will seed prolifically, especially in good growing conditions. This plant prefers full sun and well-drained soil, growing in clay, loam, sand, and coarse soil.

Tip: Birds rely on fresh water during the hot summer months for drinking and bathing. Help birds in your garden by adding a non-slip, rough-surfaced birdbath to your yard. Don’t fill it too deep; shallow depths of about two inches are best for birds. Remember to clean the birdbath with a stiff-bristled brush regularly, adding fresh water as needed. Keep the birdbath away from any low-lying shrubs where predators, including cats, might hide.

Listen to Mourning Doves

To listen to mourning doves, check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Click here.

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