Monday, January 3, 2011

Got Doves?

I may not have great bird diversity in my backyard during the wicked Utah winter, but there's no denying that I have great numbers of birds. That is never more obvious than when the flock of Eurasian collared-doves comes to feed. My backyard doves, in particular, never seem to have learned that doves are typically ground feeding birds, and instead they've learned how to attack the hopper feeder from my flocks of sparrows and finches. They crowd one another out, land on one another, and occasionally nip one another in order to get at the hulled sunflower I feed. Some are more patient, however, and will stake out positions on top of the feeder, on the nearby stump, or in the adjacent hawthorn tree to wait their turns (or just because they won't fit at the feeding ledge). I've had as many as a dozen or more at once, and these are not small doves by any means.

I never tire of watching these birds, and Eurasian collared-doves hold a special place for me. I had never seen one before moving to Utah, and the first day I saw one on our patio I dismissed it at a quick glance, believing it to be a mourning dove. Something about it caught my eye, however, and I looked closer - it didn't have the spotty wings of a mourning dove, it was much too big, and no mourning dove had that ring on the back of the neck. After a quick consultation with my favorite field guide (Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America), I had a new lifer on my list, and it's been a favorite bird of mine ever since.

Over the years, I've marveled at these doves' personalities - they tend to be more skittish and nervous than mourning doves and they're frantic eaters, which stems from that nervousness and a wariness of any potential predators. Their harsh coos remind me of owls, and like all birds, they are distinct individuals. I've had one that would smack its comrades with a wing if they got too close when feeding, and another one is a definite nipper. I've even had one visit that was partially leucistic, with patches of much paler feathers and an overall lighter coloration that made it distinctive.

A lot of backyard birders may feel that doves - particularly ones with such voracious appetites - are less than welcome at their feeders, but these beautiful birds will always be welcome at mine.

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