Early Bird — White-Winged Dove
Yesterday, I went for a short early morning hike in Saguaro National Park – West. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Tucson area, Saguaro National Park is in two locations, on Tucson’s far east and far west sides. Both locations are excellent for viewing the giant Saguaro Cactus and all sorts of flora and fauna but their geography (geology, too) differs considerably. Saguaro East is at the base of the Rincon Mountains whereas Saguaro West is located amidst the smaller but very scenic Tucson Mountains. The park at Saguaro East is mostly flat until it ascends the west slope of the Rincons. The park at Saguaro West includes many steep and very rugged hills and and also several small canyons.
I was quite surprised to encounter numerous White-winged Doves on my little hike. These birds are seasonal residents in the Tucson area. Usually, one doesn’t see them around here until late March or early April. Their arrival generally coincides with or just precedes the Saguaros’ blooming. The doves feast on the flowers’ nectar and later, on the fruits of the Saguaros. Seeing these birds this early was quite a surprise. We’ve had an unusually warm and dry winter, dry even for our desert, and perhaps the doves’ early arrival is connected with that.
It’s a bit of mystery to me as to why these birds migrate and where they go. They generally vanish from the Tucson area by late September. Surely, it’s not a question of weather. In late September we’re still routinely getting daytime highs in the mid-90s and that’s plenty warm for these birds. Oddly, they live year-round in the foothills of the Baboquivari Mountains, just about 60 miles from Tucson, where there are relatively few Saguaros. I have no idea what it is about that location that keeps the doves there year-round even as they migrate to and from Tucson and its suburbs.
A lot of the locals disdain White-winged Doves. In their personal habits these doves are very similar to pigeons and they have a reputation for depositing messes around swimming pools and backyard patios. Personally, I have a lot of affection for these birds. They are beautiful and graceful and they are sort of an iconic Sonoran Desert species. So I, for one, am happy to say: “welcome back!”
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture priority setting, ISO 800, f6.3 @ 1/2500.