2 min read

The Morning Croon of Mourning Doves

Lie there, listening, as the morning chorus of backyard birds swells.
A pair of mourning doves sits atop a fire escape railing, looking out over several adjoining backyards.
Fire escape visitors survey their backyard Brooklyn domain.

A few minutes before your alarm goes off, an urgent coo rouses you preemptively from slumber. It is neither early enough to return to your now-fading dream, nor late enough to merit getting out of bed. So lie there, listening, as the morning chorus of backyard birds swells—anchored by the bassoon-ish notes of courting Mourning Doves.

This quiet hour is the perfect time to express one’s evolutionary fitness if one is a bird. Noise complaints peak around 11:00pm across the boroughs, but even during the daytime we’re exposed to more than enough cacophony to quicken our pulse and fog our concentration. Before the construction crews begin, before sirens thread their way through commuter traffic, before we are angry enough to shout at each other, the birds are singing to be heard.

The male Mourning Dove sobs his deep perch-coo from atop the air conditioner you kept meaning to remove in the early months of winter. The wobble of the White-Throated Sparrow gains in confidence until its reedy refrain tumbles into a perfect Oh-sweet-canada-canada. The American Robin reminds you to Cheerily-cheer-up-cheer-up, it’s spring, you idiot.

To both lovers and enemies, they deliver their songs at higher frequencies than their country cousins, and their serenades are longer and faster-paced. They are city dwellers, too. Whistle out your window in appreciation.

Archival illustration of fancy pigeon variety called "London Fancy," and sporting long, thin necks and bumpy growths on their beaks.
Fancy city dwellers from Cassell’s pigeon book, 1876 (via NYPL Picture Collection)
  • Along with their plaintive songs, Mourning Doves can clap their wings when taking flight to make a distinctive staccato whistling sound. Listen to recordings of their sonic repertoire at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
  • Mourning Doves and pigeons—both members of the Columbidae family—are plenitudinous in NYC. In Woodside, Queens, just off the BQE you can find an official Pigeon Paradise. As NYC Parks explains, this triangular traffic island—once dubbed, according to a now-vanished sign, the Isle of the Squab—was acquired by the city in 1924 “by condemnation.” According to Forgotten New York, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern was fond of giving playful names to such spots. Pick a spot in your neighborhood and give it a moniker that only you will know.
  • Ubiquitous spike-covered pediments and plastic owls may be intended to discourage roosting, but our city undeniably loves its doves and pigeons. Brooklyn’s Borough Hall recently welcomed two new feathered staffers. And the Rock Dove is frequently called upon to play the role of mascot: Birdie of GreeNYC, Nellie of local reporting outlet The City, and the (admittedly unofficial) NYCFC Pigeon, among them. Also in the ranks of pigeon lovers is the snafu-riddled Board of Elections, which held a naming contest for their mascot last year. Write-in suggestions included Patronage, Crony, Boss Tweed, and Accurate & Timely Results.