Mike Jacobs Always in Season: A peaceful dove leads to an encounter with the law

Grand Forks has its share of mourning doves, though not so many in my immediate neighborhood.

Mourning dove.
Illustration / Mike Jacobs
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Mike Jacobs.
Tom Stromme

GRAND FORKS – Perhaps without question, the mourning dove is among the most welcome of birds.

Its plumage is pleasing, ranging from pale gray to light brown with some pinkish blushes and black markings.

Its call is calming and reassuring, if sometimes a little melancholy.

And its demeanor is settled and steady – except when the nest is approached, and the hen bursts from hiding with force that startles any passerby.

That is the bird’s intent, of course, because the nest is remarkably flimsy, a mere layer of twigs laid across branches at about eye level with a 6-footer.


In the last fortnight, I’ve experienced each of these iterations of mourning dove behavior, at the two places closest to me at this stage in my life – the one we left at Gilby, North Dakota, and the one we moved into, a house on the city’s southside.

The martin is the largest member of the swallow family. Like the barn swallow, it is a luminescent purple in color, but it lacks the salmon and buff trim that marks barn swallows.

Mourning doves showed up every summer in the 25 years we lived west of Gilby, and their cooing began with sunup. Males – competing for mates – began a call-and-response routine, with one call bringing a response around the shelterbelt that ringed our property – mourning doves in “surround sound,” in other words.

The call is a string of mellow coos, sometimes two and sometimes three. And it’s repetitive. Hearing this on my last day at the farm, I grew a little wistful. We’d often sat on the deck listening to the mourning dove medley, sometimes interrupted by meadowlarks.

That’s the melancholy part. The chorus was such a fixture of summer, and I didn’t expect to hear it in bustling Grand Forks. So, I grew a little melancholy.

But I was wrong. Grand Forks has its share of mourning doves, though not so many in my immediate neighborhood. On my walks along the Greenway and through the neighborhood, I often hear them, and one led me to a brush with the law – inadvertently on my part as well as the birds.

I carry binoculars – the pair I bought after I misplaced a pair I’ve carried for more than a decade. That pair showed up in a dark corner of our book basement. I put the binoculars in the cubbyhole of the pickup, reserving it for birding excursions rather than everyday use.

I’m not a power walker. I tend to meander, and I make stops if I hear or see something interesting. That happened in the neighborhood southwest of our house, not far from where our niece and nephew and their family live. I’d walked down to ask our nephew, who is a builder, for advice about our house, and on my way home, I heard mourning doves. Instinctively, I raised the binoculars and peered into the bushes hoping to find the bird – or even better, its mate.

This failed.


Within a few minutes, a police car turned into the street and drove slowly past me, then made a u-turn and drew up beside me. An officer got out. Soon another car arrived, and I was suddenly confronted by two police officers.

The first officer asked what I was up to, said there’d been a report of suspicious activity and asked for an explanation. Birds, I said, displaying the binoculars.

That didn’t quite satisfy the officers, one of whom asked for identification. I wasn’t carrying any. I left my wallet on the dining room table. So I faced a line of polite questions: where I lived, what I was doing in the neighborhood, who I’d been visiting and so on.

I passed the test. The officers went about their duty, and I walked home – a little shaken and a little embarrassed – and with a new tale about mourning doves to share.

That’s how the mourning dove became this week’s bird of the week. Again. The dove is a frequent pick.

Not every bird that coos is a mourning dove, however. The Eurasian collared dove has become established in many communities in our area, including Gilby. Unlike the mourning dove, which seldom spends the winter months here, the collared dove is resident year-‘round.

The collared dove is larger than the mourning dove, falling between the robin and the crow in size – making it about the size of a grackle, though without the iridescent plumage and the outsized tail

The telltale field mark is a black stripe on the back of the neck – the collar of the collared dove.


Jacobs is a retired publisher and editor of the Herald. Reach him at

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