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COLUMN: No need for mourning as dove population soars

Mourning doves are quite easy to observe as they are well adapted to city living as well as rural settings, explains outdoors columnist
20140518_Mourning Dove (Hawke) (1)
Mourning doves are very plentiful in North America and are the only true dove found in Canada.

Funny how a person can vividly remember an event from years ago yet forget why they just walked into the kitchen. One of my ‘moments’ was the sighting of a mourning dove, a bird that is super common these days, but back in the late 1960s, pretty rare for this area.

It was a sunny autumn day, just after corn harvest, and our usual rag-tag gang of teenaged archers were out with our equipment for some long-range target shooting. By this I mean that we would shoot an arrow as far as we could to the other end of the corn field, and then all walk over to retrieve said arrows before shooting them back to the place from whence we came.

This corn field is now the campus of Lakehead University in Orillia, but back then it was one of the fields of the Harvie farm. I’m almost pretty sure that maybe one of our gang had supposedly asked Mr. Harvie at one time if it was OK to hunt these fields and I recall the answer from someone being that “yeah, no problem” for us to be there. The source of this verbal permission may have been gleaned by Mike or Gary, possibly Randy, but not likely from Rene, Ray or myself.

Back to the dove. As we were walking to retrieve said arrows from yonder field border, a pair of birds rocketed past us. We were all quite familiar with pigeons, but these birds were sleek, fast and had an aerodynamic form to them, quite unlike the bumbling and stocky barn pigeons we were used to seeing.

All eyes turned to me for an identification, as I was the only one who was a bona fide member of a nature club so therefore, by default, all bird identifications would be easily confirmed by me. “Ah, um, passenger pigeon?” I squeaked. All eyes rolled to the sky and the walking resumed.

That evening the Peterson Bird Guide was flipped through and sure enough the rocket-birds were illustrated and identified as mourning doves. Not ‘morning’ doves I noted, but ‘mourning’. Hmm, does that mean they only show up at funerals? Or maybe they were as sign of impending doom! Couldn’t wait to share this bit of legend with the gang!

Of course the source of their moniker is from their mating call, a low “woo-hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo” which with little imagination does indeed sound like a person deep in the throws of grief. For me it took another year before I heard this call.

Mourning doves are very plentiful in North America, and are the only true dove to be found in Canada. Many other dove species may be encountered in California and Mexico, but up here it’s pretty safe to call it even with just a glance.

I don’t know why their population suddenly surged in the 1970s, but this species quickly established itself in our region as a breeding bird, and then as an overwintering bird. They have several broods a year, with the first set of eggs being laid as early as late March (in a warm year).

Nest building is a shared activity, the males gathering twigs, grasses and pine needles that are handed over to the Mrs. for actual construction. It has been noted that the resultant nests are usually quite fragile and are often dislodged in a summer storm. Perhaps this is why the males sound like they are in mourning?

If the platform is successful in actually containing the pair of eggs, incubation is again a shared activity, the males doing the day shift and the females take the night shift.

The young are fed by both parents, regurgitating a seed broth known as ‘pigeon milk’ for the first few days, then seeds. This is why you will never see an adult carrying food to the nest; it’s all handled internally.

These birds have increased their number so greatly that there is a hunting season for them; indeed, some claim that dove hunting is the biggest migratory bird activity across North America. But even with a daily bag limit of 12 to 15 birds, it takes a rare hunter with enough experience and savvy to actually shoot more than a couple at a time.

Nowadays, my relationship with mourning doves begins at 6:15 a.m. every day. Somewhere nearby, just outside my bedroom window, is a really favourite site the male likes to call from. “WOO-HOO, HOO, HOO, HOO”… 6:15 a.m…. every day.

These birds are quite easy to observe as they are well adapted to city living as well as rural settings. They like conifer trees such as fir, spruce or pine for nesting sites, and nests have often been recorded in backyards right beside the pool or barbecue deck.

With all the doom and gloom messaging we hear of so many species disappearing, it’s a nice to know that a few, like the mourning dove, are actually thriving!