Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: Seeing a ringed turtle dove a rarity in North America
Editor’s Note: The following column was printed in the Union Leader on Saturday, Oct. 13, 1990. The column heading was “Nature Talks: Down on the Farm with Stacey Cole.”
TURTLE DOVES were inquired of by a Sanbornville reader who wrote:
“I feed my birds the year round and this summer have lured a pair of rose-breasted grosbeaks. This was a thrill as I had never had them before. Of course, finches and siskins, etc., are frequent visitors.
“However, I do have a pair of turtle doves. They are quite distinctive with their sleek tan color and black collar. My bird book gives very little information as to where they came from. It does mention that they are very common in Los Angeles, Tampa and Miami, Fla. Are they considered rare in this part of the country? I certainly would appreciate any added information you could give me.”
It is, indeed, rare to see a ringed turtle dove in New Hampshire. In Keene, several years ago, I photographed one of these pale beige birds that has a narrow black ring at its nape and sides of its neck. The only other ringed turtle dove I have heard about in our state was reported to me by a reader of this column some years ago.
Since our Sanbornville readers reports having been visited by a pair, it is logical to believe that these birds were escaped caged birds. However, as unlikely as it may seem, it is possible that they were carried here on the wings of a strong storm.
According to “The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds,” written by John K. Terres and published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1980, on Aug. 26, 1970, a nest of the ringed turtle dove was discovered at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in New York City. It was reported that this was “near a place where several had been liberated.” Perhaps the pair our reader saw could have originated from this source.
The origin of the ringed turtle dove (Streptopelia risoria) is unknown but it is a species that has been domesticated widely. It is found throughout the world and is believed to be a variant of the African turtle dove. In North America, other than the locations our reader mentioned, they are very rarely seen.
The ringed turtle dove is easily distinguished from our now more common mourning dove in that it is slightly larger, measuring from 12 to 14 inches in length, and is much paler, having a sandy plumage throughout. Its outstanding characteristic, of course, is the very obvious black ring on its hind neck that carries to the sides of the throat. Its tail is moderately long and rounded with white at the corners.
Another reader who lives in West Milton feeds birds and wrote in part:
“We feed all summer but cut down on sunflower seeds. Two pairs of evening grosbeaks have nested and brought their young ones. No blue jays or chickadees to speak of during the summer.
“In the spring for the past two years we have had a pair of black ducks come to eat where we ground-feed with mixed seed. The male first seemed to guard the female, then later on in the season the female came alone. We assumed he was minding the eggs. Now we don’t see them. The hatching is done and they have moved on.”
“I put three small bags of suet in a wild crab apple tree outside my kitchen window. Two pairs of downy woodpeckers came faithfully to feed. To our surprise they brought the young ones, fed them and taught them to feed themselves. This tree is like a front row seat for bird watching. I dug it up out of the New Jersey woods when we came here 20 years ago. The blossoms are sweeter than the dearest perfume and the hummingbirds love it. This year we added a hummingbird feeder and have a very aggressive male who has taken over. He sits up on his favorite branch when he is not sipping nectar, but swoops down when we pass under the tree or when another ‘hummer’ comes for a drink.
“Has anyone mentioned the absence of the brown thrasher? It seems as though it’s been two years since they were here. Such a lovely bird — we miss him but our catbirds don’t let us down.”
No, no one has mentioned whether or not the brown thrasher has been seen as often as in past years. Come to think of it, though, I have not seen or heard one here at the farm for at least three years, nor do I recall seeing one in my rambles elsewhere this summer. They were quite common not too many years ago.
Brown thrashers are members of the Mimidae family often called “mimic thrushes.” They are about the same length as a robin but thinner, have a distinctive bright, rufous back with a heavily striped breast. Their song is similar to that of the catbird but without the distinguishing somewhat harsh “mew” contained in the vocalizations of the catbird. Frankly, I enjoy the thrashers’ lyrics best in that they appear to me to be more melodious. Another cousin is the mockingbird — to my ear, the best singer of our three music thrushes. Some of our other readers may wish to comment.
Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at firstname.lastname@example.org.