Dove History

image of passenger pigeon image of mourning dove

(left) The extinct passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius, lacks the small black spots found on doves. (right) The common mourning dove, Zenaida macroura. The small birds became popular as game birds when their larger cousins, the passenger pigeon, was hunted to extinction in the early 1900s. 

Mourning doves predate man in America, with fossils tracing back 1.8 million years. The birds proved quite adaptable to the arrival of humans, and the two have coexisted through the centuries. Nomadic Indians hunted doves for food in the arid southwestern United States. The Pueblo Indians called them givers of rain or indicators of water because they drank from waterholes daily. Early European settlers used Old World terms to identify New World doves, and they became "turtle doves."

Mourning doves not only adapted to humans, but prospered from their influence. Prairie fires set by Indians, as well as lightning-sparked fires, benefited doves by creating bare ground for feeding sites and enhancing growth of seed-producing plants. The changes in land use that came with white man's arrival in North America further increased the abundance of doves. New agricultural practices of crop farming, livestock grazing, forest clearing, burning and introduction of exotic seed-bearing plants helped dove populations. The small birds became popular as game birds in the early 1900s when the larger passenger pigeon was hunted to extinction. More recent environmental alterations, such as irrigation, tree planting and building grain storage facilities, continue to improve dove habitat.

Although many human activities help mourning doves, some do not. Brush clearing, clean farming, larger farms and chemical pollutants can reduce dove populations.

Copyright 1990 by the Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri