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Mourning Doves Show Their Gracefulness in Upper Milford

We built a trust with a family of them that were living in a tree.

Many beautiful and colorful birds call Upper Milford Township their home. They can be seen in most any tree or perched atop the electrical wires that wind throughout the area. And, even if you do not see them, they will surely catch your ear while singing beautiful music during the day.

Last month, while removing bagworms from one of our trees, my husband discovered a bird sitting on a nest of two eggs. Most birds will abandon their nest if they feel threatened, leaving their eggs or hatchlings.

But this bird never left the nest. It never moved. We probably could have reached into the spruce tree and petted it, but we just looked—waiting for those eggs to hatch.

“When does it eat or get up and stretch its legs?” we wondered. 

This bird, a mourning dove, soon became an extended member of our family. It was introduced to our oldest son and 3-year-old grandson, as well as anyone else who came by. 

Curiosity caused me to do some research. 

I discovered that mourning doves, unlike most birds, incubate their eggs round-the-clock. And since the male and female look almost alike, it just appears that the same bird is sitting on the eggs the entire time. Generally, dad has the day shift, while mom has the night shift. If you aren’t around during the shift change, it just looks like the same bird incubates the eggs all the time.

These birds are generally monogamous. When they find a mate, they preen each other by gently nibbling around their partner’s neck as a bonding ritual. Eventually, the pair will grasp each other’s beaks and bob their heads up and down in unison. I guess this means they are married!

They usually mate for life and can have up to six broods a year, with each one containing two eggs. 

We talked to the bird every day while picking off the bagworms. He watched our every move while protecting those precious eggs. Usually mourning doves are very wary around human beings and spook easily, but for some reason, he seemed to know that we weren’t going to harm him or the eggs.

Mourning doves get their name from the distinctive lament-like calls they make:  coo-OO-ooo-ooo. Their coo may sound a bit sad, but it signals the beginning of the year’s nesting, claiming territory, and raising young.

But one day the nest was empty. No more dove and no more eggs. We have no idea what happened to the birds or those unborn babies. Maybe a predator came, lured the bird off the nest and took the eggs. A squirrel? A hawk? Maybe a stray cat?

Hopefully, next year mama mourning dove, also known as the turtle dove, will have another brood for us to call family. 

Maybe finding the family in the tree was a sign from God telling us not to worry—the tree will survive its bagworm infestation.

Credit:  wild-bird-watching.com, allaboutbirds.org, birding.about.com

Jennifer Elston September 17, 2012 at 10:17 PM
We've had 2 rounds of Mourning Dove eggs this season in our plant hanger! Love them!

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