Are Mourning Doves Smart? Do They Recognize Humans?

Published Categorized as Birds, Birdwatching
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Interested in mourning doves? Are these gentle birds clever enough?

Keep reading till the end as I explain their intelligence, share some interesting facts about them, and explore whether or not they are capable of recognizing humans.

Are Mourning Doves Smart?

In general, Mourning Doves are moderately smart and are known for their parental care. They usually struggle at building nests, or doing problem solving tasks like figuring out how to access food from bird feeders.

That said, they are known to form associations with humans. For instance, you can watch it in this video.

The video is about a family who rescued a young dove and how the dove formed a unique bond with them.

It all started when they found a small dove that couldn’t fly back up the tree. They decided to take care of the dove until it grew up and became capable enough of flying.

And it turns out, gradually the mourning dove grew up, forming close associations with family members as you may have seen in the video. The dove has a unique relationship with the family members. And it also likes to play with the family dog.

The dove perches on the head of the family members and flies away whenever the dog approaches, displaying a playful yet mischievous behavior which is really fun to watch.

Interestingly, the dove now keeps visiting the family even after it was released which highlights the strong bond of the bird with the family members.

Mourning Doves Maybe Moderately Smart – Not As Crows or Parrots

In the bird world, Crows and Parrots are considered as some of the smartest and most intelligent birds out there.

They both have bigger brains – just like dolphins and humans have bigger brains when we talk about mammals.

Relative to their body size, crows tend to have a bigger brain and that makes them one of the most intelligent birds in the avian world. 

Birds With Relatively Big Brains:Birds With Relatively Small Brain:
American CrowsMourning Dove
American KestrelsRock Pigeon
Black-Capped ChickadeesHouse Finch

As you can see in the above chart, mourning doves have relatively smaller brains.

So don’t be surprised if you see them struggling to eat seeds from your window feeder or a flock of mourning doves flying towards you while you are driving.

Nest Building Behavior Of Mourning Doves

Mourning doves start building their nests usually in the early morning. The male dove will gather the pieces needed to make the nest and the female helps in arranging them to build the nest.

But unfortunately, in the nest building process, the mourning dove carries only one straw at a time. And if by chance that straw drops, the birds won’t make any effort to pick that up and instead it begins its trip all over again.

On the other hand, even birds like sparrows know the importance of efficiency in doing tasks. They carry as many pieces they can in their mouth – unlike the dove and thus they save their energy and time during the nest building process.

Moreover, sometimes these calming birds can build nests in conditions which don’t make their nesting safe enough.

One user reported that they saw a mourning dove build a nest closer to their homes’ rain gutter. The place was a very bad choice as a nesting spot since there was no protection or shade in that area. The nest could get easily affected by the heavy rain yet the mourning dove chose it as shelter.

So, these adorable birds are sadly not smart enough when it comes to building nests or even choosing the right nesting spot.

They are known to build their nestings in some of the most awkward places you could think of: a narrow beam, hanging plants, sloping roof and so on.

But you know what? Their goal is to mainly reproduce quickly and produce as many offspring as possible. They have evolved that way. So you’ll find them rapidly constructing nests in any suitable location they can find, and simply laying eggs there.

They are not intelligent enough to learn from their mistakes and build top-notch nests for their off-springs. But the thing is: Mourning doves are really great parents.

They rarely leave the nest unattended and both male and female counterparts contribute to incubating the eggs.

If They Are Not That Intelligent – How Do They Survive?

Well, by reproducing many times in the year and producing a lot of off-springs to compensate for the loss of population that happens.

Mourning Doves are known to grow up to 6 broods in a year. And their clutch size normally consists of two eggs.

As a bird enthusiast, taking a closer look at these things really makes me wonder how organized and balanced everything is in nature.

Isn’t it fascinating to know that a bird with a moderate level of intelligence has got a high reproductive rate so that it can maintain its population and survival?

In comparison, American Crows tend to have only 1 brood in a year.

Do Mourning Doves Recognize Humans?

Mourning doves belong to the same family as pigeons.

According to one study, even the untrained pigeons have the capability of recognizing individuals.

In this study, two scientists tested pigeons in a Paris park. They wore separate lab coats but they looked the same.

One researcher ignored the pigeons and let them eat, while the other followed and harassed them.

After that, they conducted another session when neither of them pursued the birds.

What they found out was really interesting! The pigeons remembered who was cruel to them long after they stopped behaving like that. Even with a different-colored lab coat, they avoided that individual.

The pigeons seemed to know the researchers as people and recall who was pleasant and who was rude to them.

This illustrates how clever pigeons are! They distinguish people by how they treat them and not simply by their clothes. Pigeons have lived with people for a long period, from domestication to city life, therefore this capacity may have evolved through time. It’s remarkable how animals can adapt!

And if pigeons have this sort of association forming ability, we can’t ignore the mourning doves which are close relatives to them.

Related Read: Why Do Mourning Doves Puff Up?

Final Thoughts

In a nutshell, mourning doves tend to have a moderate level of intelligence, but they are known for their strong parental care, often laying multiple broods in a year to compensate for any population loss.

Their nest-building skills may not be the best, as they often choose less-than-ideal locations for their nests, but they make up for it by being attentive and dedicated parents. 

And while mourning doves may not be as intelligent as crows or parrots, their high reproductive rate and strong parental care ensure their survival and success as a species.

So, the next time you come across a mourning dove in your backyard, you can appreciate its gentle nature and the unique behaviors they exhibit. With their peaceful cooing and graceful flights, mourning doves truly contribute to the enchanting beauty and rich diversity of nature.


By Ravi Ganguly

Hi! My name is Ravi Ganguly, an avid bird lover and the founder of Since my childhood days, I have developed a special interest in birds. I always feel enthusiastic whenever I talk or study about them. My goal is to share helpful bird-related content with other bird lovers worldwide. You can read more about me here.