Thursday, March 10, 2016

Smallest Game Bird in the Southern Appalachians: The Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Mourning Doves are known by several obsolete English names, including "Rain Dove", "Turtledove", or "Carolina Pigeon". These doves can be heard in the morning or evening, the male cooing in a five-note song to proclaim his home territory. In the day, pairs of doves rest on power line poles, rustling their feathers to keep warm. A single dove may be seen, especially in cloudy weather, soaring and diving without moving a muscle, making a three-pronged shape with its tail and two wings. However, almost everyone has seen a mourning dove strutting about the ground looking for seeds. Doves are granivores, meaning they only eat grain, seeds and/or nuts. Pairs gather in the spring and mate for life, normally having several clutches in one season as well. Nests are built from matchstick-sized twigs, hanging low in the dense foliage of conifers and other lush trees. Young doves, called squabs, are born with closed eyes, a soft beak, and wrinkly pink skin instead of feathers. After a few weeks, they hop out of the nest to learn to fly. The parents still feed them, and what the parents feed them is really kind of disgusting. A mother dove will land at the nest and blow out her chest. What happens next is hard to explain. The squabs will push their heads into their mother's feathers close to her head, and she will transfer a slimy, milky substance of digested nuts from her crop, the place where birds store grit and seed in their bodies to help them digest food, to the young birds. Here is a video of this phenomenon happening;
However beautiful doves are, they still aren't the most intellectual creatures on earth. Hawks and falcons enjoy feeding on them, and maybe that is why doves have several clutches per year. Doves will forage at your feet, but the instant you make a quick move, they will fly upward in a burst, which hunters call "flushing". Once they are "flushed", doves will make a whistling sound with their heartily flapping wings. They will usually swoop into the underbrush or hide in evergreen foliage after being flushed. Doves are common in fields, rocky or sandy areas, lawns with weeds or grass that is seeding, as well as in clearings. Male doves are larger, are the only ones who call, and have a barely-visible iridescent ring around their necks. As mentioned earlier, hunters also enjoy shooting doves. Most of the time, they will have a deer food plot which also attracts doves. Several kings of ring-necked turtledoves have been introduced to the US, and those food plots will attract one of the most widespread of those introduced doves, the Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto). It is still rarely seen and not well established, but hunters seek these doves more so than mourning doves, however since collared doves are rarer, hundreds of mourning doves are shot instead on these food plots. The food plots also make a decent bird-watching site in the fall migration, attracting yellow-rumped warblers, American woodcock, common nighthawks and many other unique birds. Here are some pictures of mourning doves;
A male mourning dove, tilting his head (a sign of curiosity), while resting on a power line.
An uneasy mourning dove walking along a sand dune.
A mated pair of mourning doves (mourning doves customarily mate for life). The male is below left and the female is on the upper right.
One more thing; an old folk legend says that if you hear a mourning dove coo, it means rain is on the way. Happy Trails, Critter Cade

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