Friday, November 8, 2013

Backyard Birding: Mourning Doves

When I walked out to my yard at the house in Rockport I saw a bird sitting under a bush. I
watched it, assuming it might be hurt, and also kept the dogs away from it. After getting a photograph and watching the bird, I realized it was an immature bird and could fly but was content to stay under the bush and in the rocks. The next morning the bird wasn't under the bush and I figured it had flown away. But then I walked into the far back of the yard and two birds were sitting near the tool shed. They've been hanging around for several days now, clearly feeling safe in spite of Daisy and Indigo's curious looks.

These two are mourning doves, one of the most common birds in North America. Their long pointed tails are unique among North American dovesof which there are about 15 species. The mourning dove is the only native Texas bird that occurs in all 254 counties and, interestingly, is the only dove species found in Canada, although there are 300 species world-wide. Hunted for sport, more than 20-45 million are killed annually, although they reproduce enough that they are not in danger of disappearing. More than 350 million are estimated in the US population. (I learned how scientists count birds and it's very interesting but that will be another posting.)

Mourning doves are sometimes confused with common ground doves, but the easiest field mark for distinguishing the two types is the beak color. Ground doves normally have an orange/pinkish beak. As mourning doves mature they also get blue "eyeshadow" on their eyes. They are fascinating to watch and are not especially skittish, remaining close even as you approach them. When they fly it can be an explosive burst and they are fast flyers, going up to 40 mph. Their name comes from the drawn out call, a soft coo-oo followed by two or three louder coos that can sound like an expression of grief.

By the way, doves and pigeons are members of the same family, Columbidae, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Pigeon often is used to refer to the larger birds in the family and, in fact, the plump "pigeon" seen in city parks begging for food is really a rock dove.

Who knows how long this pair will stay in the yard. But I'm enjoying the close up look at nature while they are here.

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