Mourning doves are common in the Sonoran Desert, but I rarely hear them mourn. I see them often, however. They
particularly like the seeds I put out for my own birds, and often there will be regular customers at my table. The
other day, I saw three flocks of hundreds taking to flight on the neighbor's land.
It has been much fun over the years to watch the doves coming for food. The social interactions are most
interesting. Quite often, there will be one bird who insists on chasing certain others off.
Mourning doves usually nest in trees. But that is not the only place they will nest. They are opportunists. We
have an aviary where we kept chickens at one time, and a few roller pigeons (otherwise known as rock doves), a breed
so-called because they will do somersaults in flight. The aviary often develops small holes because the chicken wire
it is made of rusts out. That, together with tunnels dug under the bottom, probably by squirrels, gives the doves an
entrance to where we fed the chickens. Periodically, I try to find all the new holes and plug them. Sometimes it
takes quite awhile before I find them all. You're not really supposed to keep desert species in captivity, so when
these fellows would let themselves in to help themselves, it would be necessary to catch and release them. In a way,
they are the perfect illustration of the welfare state: if you want the free lunch, you must accept slavery as the
condition. Of course, I'm not all that skilled at catching them, though I could, I suppose, catch them at night. But
I have developed a sure-fire way of emptying them out of the aviary. I have taught the rooster that when I come in
for the purpose of chasing out doves, he is to go to the little A-frame shelter in the corner of the aviary. That
way, he is well away from the door. Then I prop the door open, and I get on the other side of the doves. Usually they
fly out of their own accord.
One year, however, a dove got inside, and discovered a handy-dandy old refrigerator shelf the kids had tacked to
the wall for the roller pigeons to have their young. She set up shop, and the next thing I knew, there were two
little stubble-covered heads under her wing. When they are that small, they are quite ugly by human standards. They
have a face only a mother could love. I wasn't about to disturb them, but I did get my camera and took some pictures.
At first, I approached very quietly so I could get mother's picture. Then, when I came closer, she flew off to try to
distract me, so I got a chance to photograph the youngsters. I chronicled their growth, and I planned to release all
three when the youngsters could fly. It didn't quite work out that way. By the time I realized they were old enough
to chase out, she had another pair of eggs. Naturally, the picture taking continued, and these, too, eventually
reached adulthood. But again I missed my opportunity, and lo and behold, she now had a third batch of two eggs. I
also waited out these, and by this time she was apparently done for the season, so I chased the whole batch out. I
swear, however, that sometimes the youngsters return and let themselves in for a free meal.
I think the strangest place I have seen chosen as a nesting site was on the top of our water tank that we use for
hauling water to our property. There is an opening near the top which is about a foot in diameter, where the tank can
be emptied quickly and cleaned. Last summer, I noticed that there was a rather unkempt pile of old grass affixed to
the cover of this opening, and there was a single youngster nested atop of it. I had to go get water, so I just got
into the truck, and this bird then went for a ride. He was still in place when I got back. I never got his picture,
though. I had to leave town for a few days, and by the time I got back, he had grown and gone.
One of the oddest things that happened was when I discovered a bird in the aviary who was obviously a cross
between a dove and a roller pigeon. That bird had some characteristics of each. I even got a few pictures of that
one, but no closeups, unfortunately. I did communicate with some of the creation scientists about this, who told me
that such crosses are not that uncommon.
If you would like to see the little doves that grew up in my aviary, click