The mourning doves began nesting in a planter on Marilyn McGonagle's apartment balcony about a week after her sister Kathy died.
Before that, there had been no doves, no birds of any species, on or near the second-floor balcony in St. Louis Park. McGonagle doesn't feed birds, and hadn't considered herself a birder in any way.
The doves built a neat round nest of flexible twigs to hold the two eggs they then laid. The eggs hatched, the juvenile doves grew and fledged. The adults promptly produced two more eggs in the same nest. Those hatched on Aug. 4.
Multiple clutches are not uncommon for mourning doves. They usually build nests in trees, sometimes on the ground, rarely in what dove researchers term "human-made substrates," like a planter.
The timing and placement of the nest has to give brief pause, however. An unusual coincidence? Perhaps.
"A friend mentioned that Kathy's spirit may be making a visit. I scoffed initially," McGonagle said, "but eventually found peace with the idea …
" … especially when I realized they were mourning doves."
The birds are named for what is described as a mournful, crooning vocalization (American Ornithologists' Union, Bulletin 117).
The doves on McGonagle's balcony grew very quickly. In less than a week after hatching the pair of chicks very nearly filled the nest.
Dove squabs, as dove chicks are known, are fed something called crop milk, regurgitated by the adults. Twice daily, both parents feed them. The squabs will feed at the same time, each inserting its bill into each side of the adult's mouth.
"Crop milk comes from special cells in the bird's crop, a section of the lower esophagus in some birds that is used for storing food before digestion," according to the website of the National Audubon Society.
It contains antioxidants and immune boosters that help the new hatchlings survive.
"A couple of days before their eggs hatch, both pigeon parents start making the milky substance, which they'll feed their hatchlings over the first 10 days of their lives. When the special feeding stops, the special crop milk cells return to normal," according to Audubon.
The young birds leave the nest about 15 days after hatching. They male parent will feed them (seeds, the usual dove diet) for another month. The young birds learn to feed themselves by observing adults foraging.
Mourning doves belong to the family Columbidae (pronounced columbiDYE or columbiDEE). Other North American members are rock dove (our common pigeon), scaly-naped pigeon, white-crowned pigeon, red-billed pigeon, band-tailed pigeon, Oriental turtle-dove, Eurasian collared-dove, spotted dove, white-winged dove, Zenaida dove, Inca dove, common ground-dove, ruddy ground-dove, white-tipped dove, Key West quail-dove, and ruddy quail dove.
Most are found in the far West or Deep South. The collared-dove several years ago expanded its range into Minnesota.
Doves can be hunted in Minnesota, the season running from Sept. 1 to Nov. 29, sunrise to sunset. Daily bag limit is 15 birds, possession limit 45. Currently, 41 states allow dove hunting (internationalsportsman.com).
"All available evidence suggests that non-hunting mortality (from weather, predation, accidents, disease and environmental contaminants) is four to five times that attributable to hunting," the AOU bulletin states.
"The most recent estimates indicate that there were 167 million mourning doves in the U.S. immediately prior to the 2021–22 hunting season," according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at email@example.com.