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Named for its rather plaintive cooing, the mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) is a slender, medium-sized dove with a relatively small head and a distinctive long, pointed tail. It is one of the most abundant and widespread birds in North America, where its mournful call is a familiar sound of spring and summer. The mourning dove has soft greyish-brown upperparts and more buffy underparts, with a greyish crown and hindneck, sometimes with a metallic purple or bronze gloss. The wings and tail are grey, with a few black spots on the wings and black-bordered white tips to the tail feathers. The eye is surrounded by a narrow ring of bare blue or greenish-blue skin, and there is a small black streak on the cheek. The mourning dove has quite a small, delicate-looking black bill, and dull red legs and feet. The female mourning dove is slightly paler than the male, with less grey on the head. The male is also slightly larger than the female, and has a pinkish wash on the breast. Juvenile mourning doves have pale-edged feathers and some blackish spots on the head and breast, giving a scaly appearance. Nestlings are a dark, mottled mixture of greys, blacks and browns, possibly to minimise detection by predators. Up to five subspecies of mourning dove have been described, which vary in size and in the darkness of the plumage. The mourning dove can be confused with several other dove species, but is most easily distinguished by its long, tapering tail, which is unique among North American doves. The characteristic song of the mourning dove is a soft, sad-sounding ‘coo-oo’, followed by two or three louder coos: ‘coo-oo, oo, oo, oo’. It is usually given by unpaired males and repeated over and over from a conspicuous perch. Males also give a three-note ‘coo-OO-oo’ to attract mates to potential nest sites, and females may give a soft ‘ohr ohr’ when sitting on the nest. On take-off and landing, the mourning dove’s wings make a loud whistling sound, and it may also clap the wings together on take-off.

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