Bird Identification – Mourning Dove – Carolina Dove
Do not waste any sympathy on this incessant love-maker that slowly sings coo-o-o, ah-coo-o-o-ooo-o-o-ooo-o-o, in a sweetly sad voice. Really he is no more melancholy than the plaintive pewee but, on the contrary, is so happy in his love that his devotion has passed into a proverb. Nevertheless, the song he sings to his “turtle dove” sounds more like a dirge than a rapture. While she lives, there is no more contented bird in the woods.
Dove lovers are quite self-sufficient. Their larger cousins, the wild pigeons, that once were so abundant, depended on friends for much of their happiness and lived in enormous flocks. Now only a few pairs survive in this land of liberty to refute the adage “In union there is strength.” Because millions of pigeons slept in favourite roosts many miles in extent, they were all too easily netted, and it did not take greedy men long to turn the last flock into cash. Happily, doves preserved their race by scattering in couples over a wide area—from Panama, in winter, as far north as Ontario in warm weather. Not until nursery duties, which begin early in the spring, are over, late in summer, do they give up their shy, unsocial habits to enjoy the company of a few friends. When they rise on whistling wings from tree-bordered fields, where they have been feeding on seeds and grain, not a gun is fired: no one cares to eat them.
Only the cuckoo of our common birds builds so flimsy a nest as the dove’s adored darling. I am sorry to tell you she is a slack, incompetent housekeeper, but evidently her lover is blind to every fault. What must the expert phoebe think of such a poorly made, untidy cradle, or that bustling, energetic housewife, Jenny Wren, or the tiniest of clever architects, the hummingbird? It is a wonder that the dove’s two white eggs do not fall through the rickety, rimless, unlined lattice. How scarred and bruised the naked bodies of the twins must be by the sticks! Like pigeons, hummingbirds, flickers, and some other feathered parents, doves feed their fledglings by pumping partly digested food—”pigeon’s milk”—from their own crops into theirs.
When they leave the open woodlands to take a dust bath in the road, or to walk about and collect gravel for their interior grinding machines, or to get a drink of water before going to sleep, you may have a good look at them.
As they walk, they bob their heads in a funny manner of their own. They are bluish, fawn-coloured birds about a foot long. The male has some exquisite metallic colours on his neck, otherwise he resembles his best beloved. Both wear black crescent patches on their cheeks. All the feathers on their long, pointed tails, except the two largest central ones, have a narrow, black band across the end and are tipped with white. The breast feathers shade from pinkish fawn to pale buff below. Beautiful birds these, in spite of their quiet, Quaker clothes.