Early nesting mourning dove.

Dead Mourning Doves
The two dead nestling mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) collected form the earliest nest on record for this species in the Kingston Region. Photo: Mark Andrew Conboy.

Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) are among our some of the earliest breeding birds often with eggs being laid by mid to late April (Weir 2008). Doves and pigeons produce protein rich crop “milk” to feed their nestlings. The milk is produced by both sexes and may allow doves and pigeons to breed very early in the year, when resource scarcity makes it impossible for most other species to nest. Here I report an exceptionally early nesting attempt by mourning doves at QUBS.

On April 17, 2010 I found a mourning dove nest 30 m north of the intersection of the Cataraqui Trail and the Old Bedford Road. The nest was built 2.1 m above the ground in an eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). The nest contained two dead nestlings. The nestlings were not warm but were still soft and blood that was on the legs of both birds and near the cloaca of one bird was still wet to the touch. I suspect that the nestlings could not have been dead for very long. One adult flushed directly from the nest so was still likely brooding and a second adult flushed from the ground about 4 m away. There was half of a morning dove eggshell on the ground immediately below the nest.
The earliest egg date for mourning dove in the Kingston region is April 14 and earliest brood date is May 13 (Weir 2008). The typical incubation period for mourning doves is 14 days (Otis et al 2008). I estimated the age of the nestlings to be about 8 days old (Hanson and Kossack 1957). Based on the estimated age of the nestlings I suggest that the first egg date for this nest would be March 27. This is 19 days earlier than the previous earliest record for the Kingston region. In the southern part of their range mourning doves may breed at any time of year (Otis et al 2008), but in Ontario breeding normally occurs during April, May and June (Peck and James 1983). The earliest egg date for mourning doves breeding in Ontario that I could locate is March 19 (Peck and James 1983). – Posted by Mark Andrew Conboy


  • Hanson, H.C. and Kossack, C.W. 1957. Methods and criteria for aging incubated eggs and nestlings of the mourning dove. Wilson Bulletin 69: 91-101.
  • Otis, D.L., Schulz, J.H., Miller, D., Mirarchi, R.E. and Baskett, T.S. 2008. Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), In The birds of North America Online (Poole, A. editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  • Peck, G.K. and James, R.D. 1983. Breeding birds of Ontario: nidiology and distribution volume 1: nonpasserines. Royal Ontario Museum.
  • Weir, R.D. 2008. Birds of the Kingston region, 2nd edition. Kingston Field Naturalists.

7 thoughts on “Early nesting mourning dove.”

  1. I wouldn’t be surprised if more records are broken this spring. I reported to Ron Weir of a phoebe’s nest that we have that now has 4 eggs in it, the earliest nest date has been May 2nd.


  2. Many of the more usual early spring nesters are well underway with nest construction around QUBS. I have found the beginnings of several American robin nests and numerous pairs of black-capped chickadees are excavating cavities.

  3. I just checked a couple of the nests on the main lodge her at QUBS. The eastern phoebe nest has three eggs and so does the American robin nest.

  4. Found a robin’s nest in the cedars beside Glenhaven Cemetary today. I cross the neighbour’s drive then slip by the creek next to the cedars to walk the dog in the field. As we got next to the cedars a robin flew out and nearly smacked me in the head, she has her nest at just above eye level. I reached up and touched in there, there are 2 eggs. Now I have to avoid going by there when it’s cold. And why couldn’t she have been there when Philina was studying robins’ nests?

    1. At least one eastern phoebe nest now has a full clutch of five eggs and an adult is incubating.

      Brown thrashers were building a nest (perhaps 2/3 done at the time) on the Bracken Tract on Thursday.

  5. We have had mourning doves nesting under our porch for 2 weeks now. I think they arrived around March 15th. I haven’t seen any young birds yet but there is always a bird on the nest. Southern Ontario. Brights Grove 2016

    1. Mourning dives are one of my favourite birds although their typically flimsy nests always cause me to worry that their eggs or fledglings will fall out.


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