I watched a pair of mourning doves building their nest this afternoon. The male picked up straw and sticks from the ground and took them to his mate who worked on weaving and shaping the nest. Their nest is between 30 and 40 feet up in a huge pine tree that stands just across the backyard fence in my neighbor’s yard. The doves construct their nest on a horizontal limb, about two-thirds of the way out from the trunk. It is a flimsy looking affair. One would think that the first strong breeze would blow it right to the ground, but it stands up to the rigors of nesting. The doves raise several families there all through the summer.There has been a dove nest on that limb every year for at least three years and I assume it is the same pair, year in and year out. I couldn’t find anything in the literature available to me to indicate whether the birds mate for life, but if not, it would be a remarkable coincidence that different birds should build a nest in virtually the same spot every year.
Members of the pigeon and dove family have many interesting behaviors that distinguish them from other birds. For instance, they are among the few birds that can drink by simply sticking their bills in the water and sucking it up, unlike other birds that take the water into their beak and then tip the head back to swallow it. They are also unique in that they produce a substance called “pigeon milk” to feed their young. This is a milky secretion that is produced in the crops of both male and female birds.
It is rich in fat and protein and for the first few days of their lives, it is all the nestlings are fed. After that, the parents gradually begin to feed a mixture of the “milk” and regurgitated seeds.
The birds are vegetarians and readily utilize bird feeders. They are one of the most numerous birds at my feeders. They favor the feeders that I fill with a mixture of seeds, rather than the ones that have only black oil sunflower seeds. They prefer to feed on the ground and are usually seen walking around and picking up seeds that have been knocked out by overly vigorous feeders like grackles or woodpeckers. I also sprinkle cracked corn on the ground under the feeders for them.
The mourning dove is one of those birds that says “home” to me. I’ve been listening to its soulful song all my life, and so I tend to think of it as a bird of the south, but actually it ranges all the way from Canada into northern Mexico. It is one of the most numerous birds in all parts of its range. For a bird that appears rather fragile, shy, and retiring, it is one tough cookie. It has learned to adapt to the human-altered landscape and, like many of our successful backyard birds, it thrives in close contact with humans.
By the end of the afternoon, my birds appeared to have finished their nest. Now they can settle down to laying the two eggs that comprise their clutch and incubating their first family of the year. According to the guide books, they may raise as many as six clutches before the end of summer. Maybe that explains why they are one of the most plentiful birds in all parts of their range.