Mourning dove behavior intrigues

Compliments to photographer Bob LaPree, the gentleman who continues to deliver the beautiful pictures of our outside world, a highlight of the “Saturday's Features” page in the Friday-Saturday publication of the New Hampshire Union Leader, were received from a Northwood reader who wrote: “I was thrilled to see the 7/2/12 picture of the Jacks in the Pulpits! Haven't seen any for years. Always used to look for these and trilliums while woods walking. I did find a white trillium in Northwood Meadows State Park a few weeks ago.”

How fortunate I am to share this page, graced with the work of such an excellent photographer as Bob LaPree.

Our reader's letter continued: “I was watching three Mourning Doves the other day as they were snuggled in the grass of the lawn. First one turned and raised one open wing straight up to the sky. He/she held that pose for a few seconds, then changed wings. I've never seen this behavior and neither of my bird books mentions this. Do you know what was happening?”

Upon occasion, I have watched young doves display that wing behavior. In “Bird Display and Behavior,” authored by E.A. Armstrong, this subject is not mentioned specifically, nor have I found any such reference in other books. For what it's worth, being that this is the time of year when young mourning doves are leaving their nest, these may have been youngsters stretching their wings to strengthen them for flight. It also occurred that since mourning doves appear to continue their courting activity throughout the summer months, this wing display could be one of their courting rites. Perhaps our readers have other ideas.

Historically speaking, mourning doves have been one of several species of birds that have extended their range northward. In April 1958, the late Tudor Richards, a very good friend and noted New Hampshire ornithologist, wrote in the Audubon Society of New Hampshire publication “A List of Birds in New Hampshire”: “Mourning Dove — Uncommon summer resident in southern N.H., largely confined to open farm land, where sometimes moderately common very locally. Rare or absent in northern sections. Very rare in winter.”

Mourning doves have now emerged as one our favorite “feeder” birds, along with cardinals and tufted titmice. On the subject of their diet, noted ornithologist Edward Howe Forbush wrote: “Their principal and almost constant diet is weed seed, which constitutes sixty-four per cent of their annual food supply. These seeds vary in size from the largest to the most minute; some are so small as to seem beneath the notice of so large a bird as the Dove. This useful bird should be protected at all times in New England.”

In our area currently, mourning doves begin nesting late in April and normally have at least two broods. Their usual nesting place is in a tree or shrub. However, they have been reported as having nested on a stump, the ledge of a building and even on the ground. Upon occasion they have been known to utilize an abandoned nest of a robin. Mourning doves are not known for their engineering skills when constructing their nests, Actually, their nests frequently appear to be quite flimsy, yet I have found no mention in the literature of their eggs having fallen through. The nest is composed only of sticks, but, on occasion, they have been known to line it with small twigs, grasses or rootlets. When one looks up at the nest from below a glimpse of the eggs is not uncommon. The usual clutch is two eggs but usually they will lay three, rarely four. Both the male and female share the brooding responsibilities.

A most interesting photograph of a birdhouse was enclosed in a letter from a New Boston reader that read in part: “... when I was just beginning my interest in bluebirds, I built and erected many bluebird houses with some success. Last year I erected a birdhouse which was a copy of a family diner that my parents owned and operated at the corner of Maple and Silver streets in the '40's through the '60's in Manchester. A pair of bluebirds found it to their liking and raised young this summer.”

Since bluebirds usually will shun a multiapartment birdhouse, I was surprised that a pair selected the replica of “Caron's Lunch” to nest in. The name of the original diner was painted beneath the roof line of the birdhouse replica that offered four “nesting apartments” for birds to choose from. This is the type of house I would expect house (English) sparrows to select. This species of birds appears to enjoy communal living. Another bird, the purple martin, always selects multi-apartment birdhouses with entrance openings 2 inches in diameter — 1½-inch diameter for bluebirds.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.