Bird of the Week

    Photo courtesy Ben Bailey

    This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the mourning dove.

    This dove, zenaida macroura, is known for the male’s familiar, soft mating “coo” and for loud, alarming wingbeats from air rushing through wing feathers in a whistling noise as it takes off and lands. Fall migration is from southern Canada to as far south as central Mexico, although some remain through the winter in most of their breeding range. The flight pattern is orderly — first young doves, then females and, lastly, males. Warm climates and European settlements proliferated the dove’s dispersal and population growth.

    Ninety-nine percent of the dove’s diet consists of cultivated seeds and weed seeds, and it is supplemented by snails and rarely insects. This bird uses suction to swallow water, rather than gravity and head tilting used by most birds.

    Male courtship consists of cooing, loud wing beats, circular glides, puffed out chest and bowing. Who could resist? Males locate potential nest sites lower than 40 feet in trees, shrubs, sometimes on the ground or possibly in man-made structures. The female chooses the site and builds the nest of flimsy materials (twigs) provided by the male.

    Two white eggs are laid and then incubated by both parents for 14 days. Known as “squabs,” newly hatched are fed “pigeon milk” by both parents. This special milk of fat and protein is developed in and regurgitated from the crop of both parents. Five to six broods can be raised per year in southern climates.

    Climate change will eventually reshape the dove’s range. Threats will increase from spring heat waves endangering young in nests, from fire weather affecting their recovery and from urbanization that demolishes bird habitat.

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