Did you know? Wing Whistles!

Mourning Doves are known for their gentle cooing sounds. But sometimes they can really make a racket!

Have you ever heard a Mourning Dove make a strange screeching noise (when you get to its focal species page, click on Wing whistle from flushed bird to listen) as it takes off or lands? Where does this noise come from? Why does it happen?

First of all, what makes the sound? Surprisingly, it isn’t the bird’s voice.  It’s actually caused by special feathers on their wings! When a Mourning Dove takes off or lands, it flaps its wings quickly.  The air rushing through these special feathers makes them vibrate and create sound (kind of like a kazoo).

The noise is called a wing whistle, and it’s part of the Mourning Dove’s natural alarm system. When one bird gets frightened and takes off, the sound of its wings acts like a signal for the other birds to watch out for predators.  In an experiment published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, australian scientists recorded doves taking off in routine flight.  Later, they compared those recordings with the sound of doves frightened away by a kite shaped like a hawk, one of the dove’s natural predators.  The doves that took off alarmed produced stronger, faster wing whistles.

Even though Mourning Doves almost always make this noise when they take off, there is a slight distinction in sound.  When the scientists played the recordings later for other birds, they noticed that the “alarm” recording caused the birds to flee.  

The next time you hear a Mourning Dove’s crazy sounds, think of their cool natural ability.  

~Brigid Lucey

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