By Bryan Stevens
Star Barto, a resident of Telford in Washington County, contacted me after reading my column on the Eastern phoebes nesting on my front porch. Incidentally, the phoebes have now successfully fledged their young.
Star began her email by sharing that she and her husband, Tim, have been blessed with mourning doves building their nests on the top of one of their porch columns.
“This is our fifth year with a ring side seat,” Star wrote. “They usually have two nestings per season that produce two babies each time.”
This year, the birds changed things up and the Bartos are celebrating a third nest — atop the same porch column.
“We call it our special version of an Airbnb,” she noted.
At first, the doves would fly each time Star or Tim opened the front door, but the birds gradually grew accustomed to their human landlords.
Star wrote that their nest is in such a ideal location — safe, dry, under cover, high up — that the doves return year after year and do not doubt the safety of their habitat.
“We turn off the porch light, of course, and work hard at minimizing disruption,” she wrote.
“And they thrive,” Star added. “It is beyond thrilling to be able to see so up close and personal the magic of Mother Nature.”
The mourning dove is a common backyard bird across the country. It’s also considered a game bird.
According to the website, All About Birds, the mourning dove is the most widespread and abundant game bird in North America. According to the website, hunters harvest more than 20 million of these birds every year, but the mourning dove remains one of the most abundant birds with a U.S. population estimated at 350 million. The mourning dove also ranges into Canada and Mexico.
The mourning dove gets its name from its mournful cooing, which has been likened to a lament. Birds are more vocal during the nesting season.
Former common names for this dove include Carolina pigeon, rain dove and turtle dove. The mourning dove is a member of the dove family, Columbidae, which includes 344 different species worldwide.
From the standpoint of a scientist, there’s no real difference between doves and pigeons. In general, smaller members of the family are known as doves and the larger ones are classified as pigeons, but that’s not a firm rule.
Some of the more descriptively named doves and pigeons include blue-eyed ground dove, purplish-backed quail dove, ochre-bellied dove, red-billed pigeon, emerald-spotted wood dove, pink-necked green pigeon, sombre pigeon, topknot pigeon, white-bellied imperial pigeon, cinnamon ground dove, pheasant pigeon, crested cuckoo-dove and crowned pigeon.
Arguably the most famous dove is the extinct dodo, a bird renowned as being almost too stupid to live. The dodo almost certainly doesn’t deserve its reputation as a “bird brain.” The reason for the bird’s swift extinction after encountering humans can be explained by the fact that this large, flightless dove evolved on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Largely defenseless, the dodo’s fate was sealed from the moment this bird was confronted with new arrivals — humans and affiliated animals such as rats, pigs and cats — at its home. The results of these first encounters were catastrophic for the species.
The first mention of the three-foot-tall dodo in the historic record occurred in 1598 when Dutch sailors reached Mauritius. By 1662, the bird vanishes from the historic record. The bird disappeared so swiftly that for some time after it was often considered a mythical creature.
Other native doves in the United States include common ground-dove, Inca dove, white-winged dove and Key West quail-dove. The Eurasian collared-dove is an introduced species that has spread rapidly across the country and occurs in Northeast Tennessee.
Doves are unusual among birds in feeding young a type of milk. Known as “crop milk,” both parents feed young in the nest with this substance produced in the crop, which is simply an enlargement of the bird’s esophagus. The crop is usually used for storage of surplus food, which is usually seeds.
Young doves are known as squabs, and the crop milk they are fed early in life is rich in antioxidants, fats and proteins, allowing them to thrive and grow quickly.
To share a sighting, make a comment or ask a question, please email me at [email protected]