Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Why the Dove Mourns

I never paid much attention to mourning doves. They’re pretty birds and their gentle cooing is soothing. They go quietly about their business and don’t bother anybody – not even insects, it seems – as they search for seeds. Down South, these swift fliers are favorite targets of shotgunners. Around here, they are protected songbirds. They’re common birds without being over-abundant. Like other birds I see every day, I tend not to pay enough attention.


All this changed a bit week before last when my wife pointed out a dove nesting in the end of a rain gutter on our house. I was working in our driveway, installing some windows for our next-door neighbor and the nest was no more than ten feet above my head. The mother (I presume) sat stoically on the nest, sometimes with her tail sticking out, other times with her head peeking over the edge of the aluminum gutter. Unlike the robins nesting on our garage floodlight last year, she never flushed as I moved about and showed little concern about my presence.
I got my extension ladder to go up and take a peek. Expecting eggs, I was surprised to see two nestlings. When I first saw the babies about a week and a half ago, they looked like two squat, black toads with a heavy stubble.
Saturday morning, I was sitting on the deck, enjoying the on-rush of Spring and seeing how many bird species I could count from my lounge chair (20). When I went to check on the nestlings, they looked like little adult doves – nearly the size of ground doves I’ve seen out West - with bright black eyes. At feeding time, the mother would open her mouth and the babies would reach in for what I imagined was a regurgitated meal of seeds. The parents were spending less time on the nest and the babies were moving about, stretching their wings and looking like they’d tumble out of the gutter at any moment. Both parent sat on the peak of the roof next door, looking down at the nest as if urging their youngsters to fly.
Early Sunday morning, as I went out to the shed to get my bike for my Sunday morning ride, a cat was crouched on the lawn, tail swishing, looking ready to pounce on a male cardinal collecting sunflower seeds under the feeder. I chased the cat (and wondered if that was reason enough to get a Boston terrier). I forgot to check the dove nest before I left, but when I came home a few hours later, I noticed it was empty. I was happy the nestlings had become fledglings, but was disappointed that I hadn’t been around to see their first flights, and I was surprised that such small birds would disappear so quickly from the vicinity.
Later that afternoon, while doing a little yard work, I noticed a scattering of bird feathers on the lawn near the feeder. The feathers were brown, small and didn’t look fully developed. There were small bits of flesh on some of the quills. Right away, in my heart, I was sure my doves had died. I looked around for more remains or – hopefully – a survivor, but discovered no more clues. It pained me to think the little doves had died on their maiden voyage. I thought about cats and thought how thoughtless cat owners allow their pets to roam free to playfully destroy so much wildlife. I thought of the quote: “The boys threw the stones in sport, but the frogs died in earnest.”
Looking around the yard, I saw both adult doves moving about the yard, flying from perch to perch, cooing, and in their quiet dove way, looking agitated. I got my ladder to climb up and make sure both babies were gone. As I did, one of the adults landed and walked across the roof, coming within four feet of me as if to ask, “Where are my babies? Can you help me find them?”
Just then, I heard a commotion as a small hawk, possibly a sharp-shinned or coopers hawk, chased by a blue jay, landed in one of the maples in the backyard. I wondered if that could explain the missing babies and wondered if the hawk could have taken them right from the nest. I'm sure it’s all the same to the doves, but I somehow prefer to think that the babies died as a meal for a magnificent hawk than as playthings for a neighborhood cat.
I felt a strange sadness as I went back to my work. I thought about how hard the doves worked to build a nest, incubate the eggs, feed the nestlings and keep them warm through the cold rains we’ve had. Now, the babies were gone and the parents seemed so upset. Did they see their babies die? What did they feel? Do they feel horror? Do they feel sadness? Do they grieve? I know animals don’t think and feel the way humans do, but I know these birds sensed a loss.
Maybe the mournful cooing of the dove is a song of sadness for all the babies these gentle, defenseless birds have lost throughout time. Will they start over? What else can they do? How much loss can they endure before they give up?
When I came home this evening, I saw two doves sitting side-by-side on a tree branch near where the babies died. At least they still have each other.

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21 Comments:

At 9:50 PM, Blogger Lynne said...

Oh, that just makes my heart ache. I am fond of mourning doves too. I was told once that doves sing their sad cooing songs for all our losses.

 
At 12:32 AM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

Sad. Doves seem to be low on the food chain. And they are so sweet, if cautious.

I'd hope that one, at least, survived.

 
At 11:55 AM, Anonymous GreenmanTim said...

Ouch. But what an elegy!

 
At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a former Morning Dove owner, and a present INDOOR cat owner, this story saddens me and I agree with all of your sentiments..

-Saffiress

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

It is easy to grieve for their tender little lives, first journey out, and such a fate. We have a pair of doves that come in the evenings to scratch at the ground beneath the birdfeeder. I often scatter extra seed there for them and the Californa quail. I have found a pile of dove feathers by the birdfeeder, and know that the Cooper's or Sharpshinned have taken a meal here.

I hadn't ever seen that quote before about young boy, sport, and frogs. I won't forget it.

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger Larry said...

Gee-I feel like I did after I watched Old Yeller.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger MojoMan said...

It makes sense to me that fellow nature bloggers would understand the feelings of loss over the unhappy end of these tender young lives. Thanks to all for your comments. It's important to me to know you are reading.

A reader asked if I was also referring to the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Honestly, that hadn't crossed my mind, but I was thinking about the way efforts and investments people make often come to little or nothing, whether it be in relationships, family, kids, jobs, business ventures, etc. We all put forth honest efforts, but they are not always rewarded. All we can do is keep trying and value the good things we do have.

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger Julie Zickefoose said...

I can see you with a Boston terrier, MojoMan. To the cat chasing, which is a wonderful thing, I'd add dog kisses (nice, not slobbery), super-fun walks in the woods, steadfast companionship, and a belly laugh about every hour or so. Let me know when you're ready for one, OK?
I mourn with you and your doves. I've raised two from babies and can attest that they're as sweet as they look. And not as dumb as they look.

 
At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your blog while searching "pile of bird feathers." Sadly, I think I have a hawk in my little corner of paradise....found a feather that I think belongs to a red-tailed hawk, and have found several piles of feathers in various places in my yard....

Mourning doves were the first birds to return to my feeder after my mom died 5 years ago....I thought that was very thoughtful of God to show He knew how I was feeling.

Stacie

 
At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry to hear of your sad sorry which I found when I googled "doves nesting in gutter". I just discovered a dove nest at the end of our rain gutter near our front door. It is enjoyable to peek out the window of our front door and look into the nest. This morning there were 2 doves. One larger than the other. I haven't ventured closer to check for eggs as I was afarid to disturb them. We also have a hawk in our vicinity. I wonder what I can do to keep them safe?

 
At 12:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I regularly put out food (hen scratch) for birds and squirrels behind my house. Occasionally when flying off a dove will mistakenly fly straight into one of the large windows on the back of my house. It must look clear to them (odd no other bird does this). Some are stunned, shake it off and fly away. Some dont. Yesterday one didnt recover. I unceremoniously tossed it over the back fence for some scavenger to take care of.

To my amazement this morning I looked out and there were 7 dove on the ground a few feet from the bird carcass. Not feeding, just sitting. My first impression was I was witnessing a wake. I know dove will mourn for a mate but I never imagined a whole clan would come out to mourn a fallen brethren. Amazing.

KW
Seabrook TX

 
At 7:07 AM, Anonymous Willow said...

I , too, am grieving the loss of three baby robins. Their mother had chosen my floral arrangement on the back door to build her nest. I watched from day one as she methodically built her nest then laid the eggs , one a day at noon, until there were four. Then for twelve day she sat on them, leaving the nest just for a short time. Then after the incubation period , the eggs hatched one a day. One egg did not hatch. I watched for three days as she and their"father" brought food for them and cared so gently for them. Wednesday morning I walked into the kitchen and noted immediately the floral arrangement was missing from my door. Walking to the door, I looked down and found the three little ones lying spread-eagle on the floor. The mother was frantically flying around. I went out and picked the little ones up, cold and limp, tears streaming down my face. I placed them gently into the nest, but the mother flew away and did not come back. I think she knew that I would take care of things. Later I brought them into the house and wrapped all three togeher in a soft blue cloth and laid them in their nest, Then I placed it in a plastic bag and buried them in my flower garden. It is my belief that the thin wire I had used to attach the arrangement on the door did not hold from all of her movement. I am sooooo sad. I have put the arrangement back up with picture wire..very secure. I would wish she would come back for another nesting.

Willow
Pennsylvania

 
At 10:31 PM, Blogger lisa said...

I had mourning doves build a nest on my porch and lay two eggs. I watched how dedicated the mom and dad were. One did not survive and I found it dead in the nest. It broke my heart . They have abandoned the nest now and I feel as if I have lost a pet.

 
At 1:09 PM, Blogger Holly said...

What a well written story, brings joy then tears. Such sweet peaceful birds breaks my heart.

I found your post because yesterday I was witnessed the demise of a helpless house wren fledgling. I was speaking with the owner of this cat who we know well and the cat popped his head up & I knew in an instant what was happening as the cat ran to the helpless fledgling I ran after it and even once the cat scooped the baby up in his mouth I was grasping at the cats hindquarters trying to free the poor bird. It was a lost cause, he got away. I screamed at the owners to put the cat in the house at least for a day or two till the rest of the fledglings get a better grip on flying. Last night I kept playing the scene over an over again in my mind wondering what I could have done differently... was this to teach my tolerance? Or was I just at the wrong place the the wrong time? The neighbors did apologize profusely but it doesn't really make up for it by any stretch.

So, I found your post by googling "do birds mourn the loss of a baby" I think they must...

Sorry for the long comment...

 
At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Bill Webb said...

Nice. Really nice!

 
At 1:24 PM, Anonymous Karen W said...

I live on a lake, and a swan couple has been protecting their nest for several weeks. Finally, I saw them out with four little fuzzy babies. So cute! A few days later, I noticed that there were only three. I felt so bad for them, consoling myself with, well maybe he didn't want to swim today and was back at the nest. A few days later they were all gone :( I feel terrible for the mom and dad :(

 
At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my pet doves died yesterday :( it couldn't fly and could barely walk in the morning then we had to go to a christening when we got back it was dead :( the others seem a bit less like them selves they won't eat when I'm near them and they used to just come over and eat out of my hand :( is this normal? Please if anyone knows here's my email jessicah6358@gmail.com

 
At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was beautiful insight into the mourning calls of the dove. Each morning they fly after me, with the same calls and don't stop until I look up and recognize them. In times past, they were messengers from God. I believe they now mourn for lost souls - bird and man.

 
At 1:30 PM, Blogger Elizabeth England said...

"I know animals don't think and feel the way humans do" I'm not so sure about that...but I enjoyed reading your story. Returning home from vacation this week, I spotted two adult mourning doves standing quietly in the shade in the garden. A few feet away was a dead baby. I watched them for hours, standing or sitting or pecking, always within a few feet of the baby. At one point they laid so still - together - on the warm bricks. Not until nightfall did they leave and I went out to bury the baby. I hadn't wanted to disturb their 'mourning' process.

 
At 9:01 PM, Blogger agroves28 said...

I feel fortunate tonight to have found other compassionate people that have a tender spot in their heart for nature. I have felt at times, odd...because I care so deeply about all of the animals God has created on this earth.

Sadly, my sister's cat has been staying with me for short term (IT leaves tomorrow). So far this week, it has killed a baby and mother chipmunk, a few mice and last evening, got ahold of 3 baby birdies in a nest in my rose bushes. Sadly, I placed them all back in the nest, and when I returned from work, they were all dead. My heart is breaking for the parents. I wish I knew how they are feeling.

After experiencing the upbringing of an eaglet on Berry College Eagles live cam, I do know birds are capable of loving and caring deeply for their babies. These eagles have shown me and the 12million plus viewers, how to raise a well loved baby. They are exemplary parents...better than some humans.

Rest in peace all of the special birds we all have encounters.

 
At 9:19 AM, Blogger Jackie M said...

Just last week due to hail storms my mourning dove who nested right outside my bedroom window lost both of her babies. Instead of checking my car during the hailstorm I ran out to check the nest it was too late. That was last Wednesday 1 week ago today. Ever since then they have said that the bedroom window morning everyday morning noon and night I hear them crying for their lost babies. That's how I found your site. Wondering how long are these poor parents going to grieve the loss of their children. Myself a grieving mother I have to stay these birds are not is quote on quote dumb as people say that they are. I still grieve the loss of my child after 4 years yet I stayed here wondering how long this bird is going to grieve after 1 week. We seem to think they don't have a heart for the day don't feel just because they're Birds. But I've watched them build their nest sit on their eggs I've watched Daddy come in sit on the eggs when Mommy goes to feed and watch them feed their babies start to grow feathers almost get too big for their nest and this happens. And after a week I mourn for her I sat on my porch drinking coffee this morning listening to her cry for her babies asking God to please heal her heart even though she's just a bird. So many things we do not notice in our day. We get too busy to pay attention. Just goes to show even in the animal kingdom we're not alone when it comes to love happiness sadness and grief I know it's all part of God's great plan and the circle of life but they know that they drowned and horrible hailstorm breaks my heart as much as it breaks her thank you for your story

 

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