By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
After the first brood of Mourning Dove babies fledged on April 14, I kept an eye on the nest in case the doves decided to return to nest again. Five weeks later, on May 24, I found the female dove sitting on the nest, incubating one egg. Doing a quick calculation based upon the first nesting cycle, I circled June 22 on the calendar: Fledge Time!
Over the next couple weeks I sneaked looks at the nest and saw the female obviously brooding her babies. On June 10 I peered into the nest while the female was away, and saw the two fledglings with pin feathers growing out. On the afternoon of June 22, after a day of Middle Run Bird Experience camp, I checked on the nest and found the full-grown fledglings sitting on the lip of the nest, tipping back and forth. I grabbed my camera and watched as both babies made their first flight, landing on the metal roof above the conference room. They then flew away to join the adult doves.
Amazingly, the cycle repeated once again in the late summer, with egg-laying initiated on July 21. Simply doing the math again allowed me to predict a fledge date of August 18. On the afternoon of the 18th, I photographed the two baby doves sitting on the edge of their nest. Returning an hour later, they were no longer in the nest and could be seen perched on a nearby rock wall. (The “scaly” feather pattern makes young doves very distinctive looking).
So the final tale of the tape is this: 3 nesting attempts over the course of 5 months resulted in 6 eggs layed and 6 healthy young fledged– all from one nest! Now it is open to debate whether or not the same female Mourning Dove kept re-using the nest, or if another female took over a favorable nesting spot. My bet is on the single female theory.
There is so much more to be learned about Mourning Doves and their fascinating Life History. A very common and prolific species, they are found nesting in all 48 contiguous states and are thought to be one of North America’s most numerous bird species.
Most importantly, we have a few special lessons from this series of observations that pertain to baby birds and nests.
1. Birds Cannot Smell Well. A bird’s sense of smell is very poor and they cannot detect the scent of humans. If you touch a baby bird and place it back in its nest, the parent birds will not abandon the baby because they can detect your scent. True, some birds like vultures can smell well, but most songbirds do not have a well-developed nose.
2. A Baby Bird out of the Nest is Helpless: When you come across a baby bird on the ground, unable to fly, chances are good that it simply waiting to be fed by its parents. Leave it alone. Adult birds will follow their fledged young around for at least a couple weeks after the young leave the nest.
3. Birds Come Back and Use the Same Nest Each Year: For most songbirds this is not true. In most cases, the nest will get too damaged and weathered by exposure to the elements over the winter. Upon returning next spring, the adult songbirds may build a nest nearby, but they will not use the same nest structure. Notable exceptions are birds like Barn Swallows and Eastern Phoebes that build their nests under the protective cover of ledges or roofs. In the case of these Mourning Doves, they adopted a American Robin nest built under a protective ledge– a case of being resourceful.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this series of stories, seeing the photos of amazing baby birds, and learning a bit more about the fascinating life of nesting birds. There is an incredible amount to be learned about wildlife simply by being a careful observer.
What baby bird stories do you have to share?
Myths About Nesting Birds, from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s popular NestWatch program, does a great job of dispelling some other common mis-nomers about nesting bird biology.
Our friends at Tri-State Bird Rescue do a fantastic job of educating the public on how to better understand baby birds and prevent unnecessary “birdnapping” incidents when baby birds are taken from their parents by good-intentioned humans.