Tuesday, February 12, 2008

First post: In celebration of Mourning Doves

I started a blog about a month ago for my wife and I to share photos of our dog and birdwatching expeditions. Today I realized that I have been hogging it for my own shameless self-promotion, so I will start a new blog of my own with something I posted on the other blog today.

New Love For Doves

Posted at 10:49 AM, Tuesday, February 12, 2008

During the last two days, I have been working on mourning dove nesting data while viewing the same species on my deck. We finally refilled our feeders, so the birds have returned.

This pair spent the morning eating, stretching, preening, and, lets say, "bonding" on the deck.

Another well-illustrated nest sheet.

I must admit that, until recently, I had little respect for doves. Their small heads and bobbing gait made them look less intelligent than other birds. Species like mourning doves are often so abundant, that while birding, I often dismissed an individual on a wire as “just another mourning dove.” Mourning doves, or (MODOs for short) have never won marks in my book for nest craftsmanship either. Of all the nests I’ve viewed, MODO nests appear the most sloppily built and precariously positioned. They choose all sorts of inappropriate substrates such as large pieces of bark that dangle from a dead tree, waiting for to be dislodged by the next stiff breeze. Somehow, enough of their nests survive to keep the population afloat. Most nest fail, however, making me wonder how the species survives.

Since they started frequenting our small bird feeding deck, however, we have come to enjoy their company and laugh at their lack of modesty when, starting in winter and lasting through the fall, they perform their matrimonial rites in front of our sliding glass doors. We are also impressed with their surprisingly assertive nature. When the usually bold scrub jays show to hog the seed, MODOs often fluff out their feathers and hold their ground or charge the jay. They don’t win every confrontation, but they do retain their deck rights at least half the time.

This dove simply waited for the aggressive red-winged blackbird to get his fill of seed before reclaiming the dish for itself.

Now that I am analyzing a stack of MODO nest records for the Forest Service, I have a new found interest in this bird’s fascinating breeding biology. No other species that I have studied can nest as many times in a single breeding season. MODOs can complete a successful nesting attempt much faster that most birds their size. MODOs do not need to migrate as far as some birds to nest and they spend very little time building a nest. Both species incubate, never leaving the nest unattended. This allows no time for the eggs to cool and slow development. When the eggs hatch, they are fed cropmilk from both parents, a constantly available food source that takes no time to gather and bring to the young. When the nestling fledge, the male continues to make cropmilk and feed the fledglings while the female starts on her next nest. In some places this cycle occurs throughout the year, in others it extends from February to October, at my study sites in New Mexico, it occurs from March to late August.

The impressive nest-building rate of mourning doves helps the population persist despite high mortality rates of nests, fledglings, and adults. My current project with the forest service examines the effects of fuel reduction treatments on MODO nest survival. I expect to find low daily survival rates at all plots, but if survival rates in fuel-reduced plots are similar to those of unmanaged plots, the MODOs populations should have no trouble surviving in the midst of this management practice.


RuthieJ said...

Hi Max,
I saw your comment on Julie's blog and clicked on your name because I'm nosy and you were someone new!
I like mourning doves too. There have been at least 4 that have stayed in my yard and at my birdfeeders for our long & nasty Minnesota winter. I had several nesting pairs last summer too (about eye level in my evergreens, so easy & fun to watch the development of the chicks).
Minnesota instituted a dove hunting season a few years ago, but the doves are all safe in my rural backyard habitat.
I'll be checking back to see what's new and interesting in Oregon.
P.S. your pup is cute too!

David said...

Good morning from Soggy England!
I enjoyed the story about the mourning doves. A firmd tells me thay have one male and one female chick per clutch. Can this possibly be true? Who observed it?

Max said...

I have been researching MODO nesting biology lately and I have not come across that fact. Now I am intrigued and I will see what I find.

Tina Scerbo said...

Hi Max...I live in So Florida & we have had two sets of nestlings who have had Doves build a nest on our roof above our front porch....the second set of chicks left the nest this am and were in our front garden all morning...later today they were gone...but the Mother bird (or father) was around all day. They are so interesting to watch...I guess we will look for another brood to arrive... soon...

Tina Scerbo said...

Hi Max, I saw your info about the morning doves....I live in South Florida & we have Morning Doves who have built nests on our roof under our front porch....so far we have had two pairs of Doves...& two pairs of nestlings....they are so cute...I can hear them in our rain gutters in the mornings..We were wondering if they are the same Doves or different ones?....The second pair of young ones left the nest yesterday...& were in our front garden all morning...Now I guess we will wait for another pair (or the same pair) to have more kids!!!!