Monday, July 16, 2012

Mourning doves

What: We've got a pair of mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) that started to build a nest in a boxelder (Acer negundo) at the end of our street. I watched the male bring supplies to the female all morning. It was a hot and listless day and the female was yawny waiting for the male to return with sticks (for more on how to identify male vs. female, check out: The Secret Life of the Mourning Dove by Michele Patenaude; in short males are larger, have rosier chests, and have more irridescent heads).

As is evident in the video, it appeared as though the male was testing the strength of each twig/pine needle to be added to the nest by banging it against the ground. Flimsy ones were discarded, sturdier ones brought back. It was fun to watch him pick through the bounty of needles and twigs in search of the perfect ones. I was in and out all morning, but I'm pretty sure the male worked on this for about 6 or 7 hours before my sister and I left the house. By the following afternoon it was abandoned for whatever reason.

A finished mourning dove nest is kind of a disaster so it was hard to tell that it had even been abandoned. I found one a few years ago with Ian Worley and I asked if it was old because it looked like it was in awful shape. He said that was par for the course and the active nests I've seen since then look almost like the birds don't really care at all for craftsmanship or aesthetics. But I guess if you're building a nest in a scraggly tree like a boxelder you build a scraggly looking nest to blend in.

Ecological notes: The nest went unfinished and I think they selected a nearby site over the next couple of days after the video. Last Sunday, Brian was outside and watched the doves attacking a red squirrel. I went out and the red squirrel was coming down a white pine with feathers clinging awkwardly to its mouth. At least one of the mourning doves, and I can't really think of a more docile bird, were going crazy. So the video is from July 1st, 7 days before "the attack". I suspect that they rebuilt and soon after laid eggs. I don't know that the eggs had hatched yet, but my guess is that the doves defended their nest from the red squirrel and the red squirrel might have bit back, but not been actively hunting the doves.

Where: Burlington, VT in my backyard.

Other notes: The red squirrels have been extra bellicose the past couple weeks. It's amazing, I hadn't really seen any of them in my back yard for about two months - just an occasional sighting. But now that the fruits on our black walnut (Juglans cinerea) are swelling, they've been fighting off the gray squirrels like that's the last food source on earth. They start wailing at dawn and don't really stop. What's interesting is that the gray squirrels, though they are certainly submissive, have been equally vocal.

Also, there was a robber fly in my backyard today. I couldn't tell what kind it was nor could I tell what it was eating, but it was fun to watch it devour its meal in fits and starts.

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