Feeding Habits of Mourning Doves: Diets and Dietary Preferences

on Sep 10, 2023
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In many North American backyards, the soothing coo of the mourning dove is a familiar sound, heralding a peaceful ambiance and bringing life to your personal open space. These graceful birds, known scientifically as Zenaida macroura, have feeding habits that are intriguing to bird enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. In this detailed guide, we unfold the mystery behind the dietary preferences of mourning doves, helping you transform your backyard into a hospitable habitat for these gentle birds. Discover what seeds and grains favor their palate, understand their foraging behaviors, and get specialized tips to make your backyard a haven for mourning doves.

Natural Feeding Habits

Mourning doves primarily feed on seeds, constituting over 90% of their diet. These adaptable birds prefer a wide variety of seeds, including sunflower seeds, millet, and corn. Apart from seeds, they also feed on insects and snails, which provide them with the necessary proteins, especially during the breeding season.

Foraging Behavior

Mourning doves showcase ground-feeding behavior, foraging on the ground for seeds and grains. They have a swift pecking style and tend to swallow the seeds whole. Later, these seeds are ground down in the bird’s gizzard with the help of grit or sand, which aids in digestion.

Seasonal Variations in Diet

When insects are abundant in spring and summer, mourning doves incorporate more insects into their diet. These include beetles, ants, and butterflies, among others. In the colder months, they revert to a seed-dominant diet, sourcing from available grains and seeds in the environment.

What You Can Feed Doves in Your Backyard

If you are keen on attracting mourning doves to your backyard, here’s a handy guide on what to feed them


  • Sunflower Seeds: A favorite among many bird species, sunflower seeds are rich in fat and nutrients, providing the birds with the energy they need.
  • Millet: Offering white or red millet can be a great choice to attract mourning doves to your backyard.
  • Safflower Seeds: These seeds are loved by mourning doves and resist squirrels, which can often be a nuisance around bird feeders.
  • Nyjer Seeds: Although not a primary choice, adding Nyjer seeds to your seed mix can be beneficial. These tiny black seeds are rich in oil, offering a nutritious option for mourning doves. It's important to note that finches more commonly prefer Nyjer seeds, but mourning doves might also partake occasionally.
  • Peanuts: While not traditionally a significant part of their diet, mourning doves can occasionally be seen munching on peanuts. Offer them unsalted peanuts, either whole or crushed, as a treat alongside their regular seed diet. It's a nutritious addition that can provide them with necessary fats and proteins.


  • Cracked Corn: Easy to find and affordable, cracked corn is a fantastic option to include in your bird feeder.
  • Wheat and Barley: You can offer grains like wheat and barley to provide variety in their diet.

Choosing the Right Feeders for Mourning Doves

In light of the ground-feeding habits of mourning doves, selecting the appropriate feeder can be pivotal in attracting these birds to your backyard. Here, we outline a range of feeder options and tips that can cater to the preferences of mourning doves.

Ground Feeders

Since mourning doves are naturally ground foragers, ground feeders are an excellent choice for them. These feeders are designed to be placed on or near the ground, allowing easy access for the doves to feed. Ensure the ground feeder is safe, away from potential predators like cats, and has a roof to shield the seeds from moisture.

Platform Feeders

Platform feeders are another suitable option for mourning doves. These feeders have a flat surface, making it easy for doves to pick up seeds. They can be hung from trees or placed on poles comfortably for the birds. Moreover, platform feeders allow for various seed types to be served, accommodating the diverse dietary preferences of mourning doves.

Tray Feeders

Tray feeders are similar to platform feeders but usually have a roof to protect the feed from the elements. They can be placed on the ground or elevated, and their open design makes it easy for birds to access the feed while offering bird watchers a clear view of the feeding birds.

Specialty Feeders

Although not necessarily the first choice for mourning doves, there are specialty feeders designed to cater to specific bird species or seed types. If you opt for a specialty feeder, make sure it allows for easy access to larger seeds, which are preferred by mourning doves.

Tips for Selecting Feeders

  1. Easy to Clean: Choose feeders that are easy to clean to maintain hygiene and prevent the spread of diseases among visiting birds.
  2. Sturdy Construction: Opt for feeders with sturdy construction to withstand the weight of multiple birds and adverse weather conditions.
  3. Seed Diversity: Ensure the feeder allows for a mix of different seeds to cater to the varying preferences of mourning doves.
  4. Protection from Predators: Position the feeder in a location that offers protection from predators, providing a safe feeding space for the birds.
  5. Water Accessibility: Pair your seed feeder with a bird bath or a water tray to ensure the birds have access to fresh water for drinking and bathing.


Understanding the feeding habits of mourning doves and catering to their dietary preferences can be a rewarding experience as you watch these gentle birds frequent your backyard. Whether it’s through providing a varied diet rich in seeds and grains or ensuring a safe feeding environment, you can enjoy the tranquil presence of mourning doves in your outdoor space. Remember always to prioritize the well-being of the birds, offering fresh food and water to foster a nurturing habitat for them.