Turtle Dove vs Mourning Dove: How to Tell Them Apart

Turtle doves and mourning doves are two fascinating species of birds that often get confused due to their similar appearances. However, upon closer examination, you will notice key differences between these two species. These differences extend beyond their physical characteristics, encompassing aspects such as behavior, habitat, and diet.

As you dive deeper into this topic, you will discover that turtle doves are typically found in the Old World, while mourning doves inhabit the New World. Their songs and calls also vary significantly, as do their nesting and breeding habits. Unveiling these characteristics will help you better understand and appreciate the unique qualities of both turtle doves and mourning doves.

Key Takeaways:

  • Turtle doves and mourning doves have distinct physical and behavioral traits.
  • The birds occupy different regions of the world, with habitat-specific adaptations.
  • Diet, calls, and nesting habits are among the factors that further set them apart.

Turtle Dove vs Mourning Dove

When observing turtle doves and mourning doves, you will notice some distinct physical differences between the two species. Let’s take a look at these differences to help you better identify each bird.

Read Next: How to Attract Mourning Doves

Size and Weight

In terms of size, turtle doves are usually smaller than mourning doves. Turtle doves measure about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) in length and weigh around 4-6 ounces (110-170 grams) source. On the other hand, the mourning dove has a slightly larger size, with a length of 8.9-14.2 inches and a weight of 0.28-0.38 lbs source.


The coloration of these two species also differs. Turtle doves have warm cinnamon-colored wings with a white and black collar stripe around their neck source. Mourning doves, in contrast, display a brownish to shiny tan overall color, with black patches on their wings and tail feathers source.

Eyes and Tails

Another noticeable difference lies in the appearance of their eyes and tail. Turtle doves have striking orange eyes with a distinct black-and-white pattern on their necks, while mourning doves have dark brown eyes source. In addition, the turtle dove’s tail is predominantly black with a white border and diamond-shaped wings source, whereas the mourning dove has a pointed tail with black spots on it.

While mourning and turtle doves share similar morphological features, it is essential to notice these subtle differences in size, coloration, and appearance to differentiate between the two species. By paying attention to these distinctions, you can more confidently identify whether you’re observing a turtle dove or a mourning dove in the wild.

Unique Behavioral Differences

When it comes to turtle doves and mourning doves, you’ll notice they have distinct behaviors that set them apart from one another. In this section, we will explore some of these unique behaviors, including their sounds, social tendencies, and other habits.

First, let’s discuss the sounds these species produce. While both doves have a pleasant cooing sound, their vocalizations differ in tone and pattern. The turtle dove has a gentle and rhythmic cooing sound that is soothing to the ears. On the other hand, the mourning dove’s coo is more lamenting and has a distinctive, melancholic rhythm.

Additionally, their landing behavior is noticeably different. When a turtle dove lands, it does so gracefully, flapping its wings softly to decelerate and touch down smoothly. Conversely, when a mourning dove lands, it often produces a loud clapping sound by forcefully striking its wings together.

Another difference lies in their sleeping positions. Turtle doves prefer to sleep perched on a branch, nest, or other elevated surfaces, with their heads tucked under their wings. Mourning doves, while they sometimes sleep similarly, are also known to roost on the ground, particularly in areas with low vegetation or open fields.

In terms of social behavior, turtle doves tend to be less gregarious than mourning doves. They usually stay in small groups or pairs, while mourning doves are more likely to gather in larger flocks, especially around food sources. Both species, however, are primarily diurnal, meaning they are most active during the day and rest at night.

In conclusion, while turtle doves and mourning doves may share some similarities, their unique behavioral differences make each species distinct and fascinating in its own right. By observing their cooing sounds, landing habits, sleeping positions, and social behaviors, you can better appreciate and recognize these beautiful birds in their natural habitats.

Habitat Differences

When it comes to the habitat preferences of turtle doves and mourning doves, there are some notable differences. Turtle doves are native to parts of the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. They primarily inhabit woodland areas, grasslands, and agricultural fields. These birds prefer open and semi-open environments, making them easier to spot in meadows and fields.

On the other hand, mourning doves are native to North America, ranging from southern Canada to Panama, including the Greater Antilles. These birds have adapted well to urban and suburban areas, often seen perched on telephone wires and fences in residential neighborhoods. However, their natural habitats include grasslands, as well as areas with sparse trees and shrubby vegetation.

In terms of grasses they prefer, mourning doves are known to forage for food in places with Bermuda grass and other native grasses, while turtle doves don’t have a particular preference for grass type. Instead, they focus on the availability of seeds and other food sources in their habitat.

As you can see, there are clear habitat differences between turtle doves and mourning doves. While turtle doves prefer to roam the meadows and woodlands of the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of Europe, mourning doves are more commonly found in North America, from southern Canada to Panama.

Songs and Calls

When comparing the songs and calls of turtle doves and mourning doves, you’ll notice some distinct differences. Turtle doves have a gentle, melodic cooing sound, while mourning doves are known for their soft, drawn-out calls that resemble laments.

Turtle doves create their calls with a distinctive three-part coo, which sounds like a warm and rhythmic “turrr-turrr-troo.” The call is often associated with peace and love, as turtle doves are frequently portrayed as symbols of these emotions in various cultural contexts.

On the other hand, mourning doves produce a repetitive cooing sound that’s easily recognizable. Their mournful call is often interpreted as “coo-oo, coo, coo,” with the first note being longer than the subsequent two. Additionally, when taking off or landing, their wings produce a sharp whistling or whinnying noise, adding another unique characteristic to their calls.

While both bird species share similarities in their overall shape and size, the sounds they make are helpful in distinguishing them. You can use these auditory clues to tell the difference between these two charming dove species, whether they’re perched on a wire or fence, or foraging for seeds on the ground. By paying close attention to their calls, you’ll develop a better understanding of the unique soundscape these birds create in the natural world.

Diet and Feeding Differences

When it comes to the diet of these two bird species, there are a few key differences between turtle doves and mourning doves. You will find that turtle doves primarily consume various seeds, such as maize, canola, and mustard. They mostly feed on the ground, which is why they are called ground foragers. In contrast, mourning doves have a more diverse menu, which includes not only seeds but also fruits, plants, and insects.

To give you a clearer idea, let’s examine their preferences in more detail. Turtle doves primarily feed on a variety of seeds, including cereal seeds such as wheat, barley, and oats. They also eat rapeseed, which is commonly used as a source of vegetable oil. Additionally, turtle doves consume maize, canola, and mustard seeds, which are also important components of their diet.

On the other hand, mourning doves have a preference for seeds and grains as well, but they also include plants, berries, and insects in their diet. Some of the seeds that mourning doves eat include sunflower, corn, safflower, and wheat, which provide them with the essential nutrients they need to thrive. They also feed on a variety of plants, such as clovers and grasses.

While both turtle doves and mourning doves are known to enjoy seeds as a part of their diet, the types of seeds and the frequency of consumption differ between the two species. Mourning doves, for example, consume fewer wheat seeds and more sunflower and safflower seeds than turtle doves. Although both bird species eat cereal seeds, turtle doves typically consume more barley, oats, and maize.

Apart from seeds and plants, mourning doves also consume insects and snails, which add an important protein source to their diet. In contrast, turtle doves are more focused on seed-based diets, and they consume a lesser variety of insects and snails.

In summary, turtle doves and mourning doves both have seed-based diets, but they differ in their food preferences and consumption patterns. While turtle doves primarily focus on various seeds, like maize, canola, and mustard seeds, mourning doves have a more diverse diet, encompassing seeds, plants, and insects. Understanding these feeding differences can give you a better appreciation of the unique habits and characteristics of each species.


Columbidae is the scientific family name for birds commonly known as doves and pigeons. This family consists of over 300 species of birds within this diverse group. The turtle dove and mourning dove are two distinct species within the Columbidae family.

The turtle dove belongs to the Old World, meaning it is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia. It is a migratory bird known for its gentle cooing and beautiful appearance, with warm cinnamon wings and a white and black collar stripe. These birds usually measure between 10-11 inches in length and have a wingspan of around 19-21 inches. Turtle doves are rather selective in their foraging habits, preferring to search for food in trees and bushes rather than on the ground.

On the other hand, the mourning dove is primarily a New World species, found in North and South America. They tend to have a more brownish to shiny tan overall coloration, with black patches on their wings and tail feathers. Mourning doves are slightly larger than their turtle dove counterparts, having a length of 8.9 -14.2 inches and a wingspan of 14.6 – 17.7 inches. Mourning doves exhibit distinctive ground foraging habits, gathering their food mainly from the ground.

While the turtle dove and mourning dove share a common family, Columbidae, they exhibit differences in both appearance and behavior, making them unique species within the diverse world of doves and pigeons.

Nesting and Breeding Differences

When observing turtle doves and mourning doves, you’ll notice some distinctions in their nesting and breeding habits. Turtle doves tend to build their nests using a variety of twigs and sticks, forming a rather irregular structure. They prefer constructing these nests in woody plants over ground locations, which is a common choice for other dove species source.

During the mating season, female turtle doves typically lay two eggs per clutch, and both parents share the responsibility of incubation. This is quite similar to the breeding patterns of mourning doves. However, there may be variations in the materials they use for nest-building, as mourning doves may also incorporate pine needles or other plant materials into their nests.

In terms of broods, both turtle doves and mourning doves can have multiple broods in a season. It’s essential for you to keep an eye on these breeding pairs, as they may reuse or renovate their nests for successive broods. Remember to be respectful and maintain a safe distance to avoid disturbing their nesting process.

One key aspect to consider when comparing these doves is their size. While not directly related to nesting and breeding, it’s worth noting that turtle doves are generally smaller, measuring around 10-12 inches in length and weighing about 4-6 ounces source. Mourning doves are slightly larger, with a length of 8.9-14.2 inches and a weight of 0.28-0.38 lbs source. This size difference may play a role in their nesting habits and the available nesting sites each species chooses.

By understanding the nesting and breeding differences between turtle doves and mourning doves, you’ll be better equipped to identify and appreciate these captivating birds in their natural habitats.

Frequently Asked Questions

What sets turtle doves apart from mourning doves?

Turtle doves are usually smaller than mourning doves. They have warm cinnamon wings with a distinctive white and black collar stripe, while mourning doves have a brownish to shiny tan color overall with black patches on their wings and tail feathers. In addition, turtle doves have orange eyes with black-and-white patterns on their neck, and their tail is primarily black with a white border, whereas mourning doves exhibit a different appearance.

How do their habitats differ?

Turtle doves and mourning doves inhabit different areas but may share some overlapping regions. Turtle doves prefer wooded habitats like deciduous forests and well-grown gardens, while mourning doves can be more versatile in their choice, often found in grasslands, farmlands, and urban areas.

Are their behaviors distinct?

Yes, turtle doves and mourning doves exhibit different behaviors. Turtle doves typically have a strong migratory pattern and are much shyer, unlike mourning doves that are more adaptable and often visit bird feeders. Regarding flight patterns, turtle doves have a more relaxed, leisurely approach compared to the faster and zig-zagging movements of mourning doves.

What do their vocalizations sound like?

Turtle doves have a soft, sweet cooing that sounds like “turr-turr,” while mourning doves produce a mournful, sad cooing that gave them their popular name. The difference in their vocalizations offers another way to distinguish between these species of birds.

What symbolism is associated with each dove species?

The symbolism attached to these bird species varies. Turtle doves have been regarded as symbols of love, faithfulness, and devotion, often mentioned in literature, poetry, and even religious contexts. Mourning doves, on the other hand, are known to symbolize peace, hope, and spirituality, as well as being associated with the idea of carrying the souls of the departed to heaven.

Can you tell them apart by appearance?

Yes, there are clear differences in appearance that allow defining each species. As mentioned earlier, turtle doves have warm cinnamon wings, a distinctive white and black collar stripe, orange eyes, and black-and-white neck patterns. They also have diamond-shaped wings and black tails with white borders. Mourning doves are larger and have a brownish to shiny tan color overall, with black patches on their wings and tail feathers. By carefully observing these variations, you can easily tell turtle doves and mourning doves apart.

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