Fledgling Mourning Dove
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Each species of bird has its own reproductive strategy. Prey species tend to be prolific breeders and their offspring tend to mature more quickly than those of predators. But, even among prey species there are differences. That pair of Gambel’s Quail that I discussed the other day hatched 10 offspring. It took about three weeks for the eggs to hatch and upon hatching the youngsters were immediately capable of foraging. Mourning Doves — another prey species — are also prolific breeders but they utilize a very different strategy than that used by the quail. Mourning Doves raise one or two offspring at a time but breed repeatedly when conditions are right. A pair of Mourning Doves may reproduce three or more times during the spring and summer.
There is a Mourning Dove nest on a beam underneath the roof of our back porch. A pair of doves, mates for life, constructed the nest — a loose pile of twigs and small sticks — last summer. By my count, they’ve raised at least four broods of one or two youngsters since then, two last year and two so far this year. The most recent generation of offspring, consisting of two babies, hatched about three weeks ago. After about two weeks the youngsters, tiny and helpless at birth, but which appear to double in size every day, fledged and left the nest.
Mourning Doves are devoted parents. I was surprised to learn that the male and female dove take turns sitting on the eggs during gestation with the male generally working the day shift and the female sitting on the eggs at night. When the eggs hatch the adults feed the hatchlings by regurgitating food, which the youngsters take directly out of their parents’ mouths.
For the first day or two after fledging young Mourning Doves are very easy pickings for predators. The youngsters hide under vegetation for a couple of days while the parents feed them. After that they’re on their own. The other day I found one fledgling hiding under a bush in our back yard.
This little dove is about 2/3 the size of an adult bird and almost indescribably cute. Its most prominent feature is its huge eyes, much larger in proportion to its body than are the eyes of an adult.
After about 48 hours this youngster was gone, having matured sufficiently to fend for itself.
Amazingly, the adult doves were nesting again, within 24 hours of the youngster’s departure. A new crop of youngsters is well on its way, and there will be hatchlings, if all goes well, in less than two weeks.
Images made with a Canon 5Div, 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 ISII zoom lens+1.4x telextender, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT speedlite, M setting, ISO 160, f9 @ 1/160.