Cochise County Birds: The Mourning Dove

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Of course, the mourning dove, Zenaida macroura, is not limited to just Cochise County, Arizona. The five subspecies cover many millions of square miles of territory. As Wikipedia puts it,

…It is one of the most abundant and widespread of all North American birds. It is also the leading gamebird, with more than 20 million birds (up to 70 million in some years) shot annually in the U.S., both for sport and for meat. Its ability to sustain its population under such pressure stems from its prolific breeding: in warm areas, one pair may raise up to six broods a year….

Our local subspecies, the Western Zenaida macroura marginella, gets the local shotgunners all excited during hunting season. Fortunately for the birds, we have plenty of thick brush cover in the area, mesquite trees, creosote bushes, brittle brush, and the like. Some of the doves seem to have realized it’s safer up close to the Border Fort, too.

They’re pretty skittish, though. Step a foot outside, and they’re gone in a rush of wings. While the humans are inside the house, they come to forage seeds. That may have been inspired by the presence of our bird feeder during the summer and early autumn. We took the feeder down a few weeks back due to problems with harvester ants, but the doves had gotten into the habit of checking the place out. Add the weed whacker into the formula, and we have plenty of seeds on the ground for them to find.

What we did not have was a set of photos worth publishing.

It wasn’t like I was being overly picky, either. Mourning doves fly lickety split; catching one in flight would take a sizeable dollop of luck. I’d have settled for a workable half dozen pictures of doves on the ground.

Unfortunately, their colors are pretty drab–soft grays and browns with bits of black. The Canon PowerShot SX230 HS could catch a picture or two here and there…but the doves just looked too dull to be worth publishing in a post.

Enter the camera’s successor, the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. Could it, just maybe, produce sharper images of these birds?

The answer seems to be yes. Late this afternoon, under an overcast gray sky, Gato cat spotted five mourning doves foraging for seeds outside my bedroom window. Gato is our watch cat; nothing gets by that guy. I can’t count the number of times his focused attention has alerted me to the presence of a monster inside the house (centipede) or a bird outside. One crazy house finch even drove him nearly to distraction recently, flying straight at the window screen behind which Gato was sitting, sometimes even landing on the screen for a moment or two.

Drove that cat nuts, it did.

“What you got, Gato?” I asked softly, slipping over to look where he was looking. “Ah…thanks, buddy.”

One hundred and thirty-seven snapshots later, I was sure of it. The SX260 HS had some improved technology under the hood, a definite upgrade from the SX230 HS.

Some of these mourning dove photos would work.

Western mourning doves, Zenaida macroura marginella, forage for seeds in the leftovers from an old (6 weeks ago) weed whacking session behind the Border Fort.

Western mourning doves, Zenaida macroura marginella, forage for seeds in the leftovers from an old (6 weeks ago) weed whacking session behind the Border Fort.

Harking back to that Wikipedia entry, it mentions people hunting these gentle creatures by the tens of millions “both for sport and for meat”.

Uh…yeah, right. Some online sites peg the weight of these mourning doves at around four ounces each. No one is admitting they get any bigger than six ounces.

So, picture this. Ol’ Nimrod sets himself up with a thousand bucks worth of shotgun, shells, license, proper hunting clothing, and all that good stuff. He spends twenty bucks in gas during his commute to and from his preferred Happy Hunting Ground. Not being the worst shot out there in the field, he comes home with three birds. After removing feathers, guts, and bones, he ends up with a couple of ounces of meat per bird, or six ounces of dove munch.

Trust me, it’s not about the meat. Not in today’s hunting world, it’s not.

"Hey, boss, I may look meaty, but once you're done processing my carcass, you'll get maybe 2 ounces of meat.  Hamburger is a MUCH better price deal."

“Hey, boss, I may look meaty, but once you’re done processing my carcass, you’ll get maybe 2 ounces of meat. Hamburger is a MUCH better price deal.”

As often happens when I’m focused on snapping the camera shutter, some of the dove photos revealed information I’d had no clue was there. One example: Two of the five mourning doves seemed to be perfectly synchronized in the seed hunting work, at least for a while.

Check it out.

"We'll aim it to the north as we strike a pretty pose."

“We’ll aim it to the north as we strike a pretty pose.”

"Then we'll turn it to the west and we'll see just how it goes."

“Then we’ll turn it to the west and we’ll see just how it goes.”

"Then we'll peck the ground for seed while we angle both our tails."

“Then we’ll peck the ground for seed while we angle both our tails.”

"We mourning doves are synchronized unlike those silly Gambel's quail."

“We mourning doves are synchronized unlike those silly Gambel’s quail.”

The other three birds were a good deal more independent, enjoying the company of other mourning doves but not to an extreme extent. They kept moving, turning, striking different poses that gave the photographer a chance to record them coming, going, and sideways.

As little as they way, our local doves do give the impression of rotund solidity.  Vegetarians seldom go hungry in this country.

As little as they weigh, our local doves do give the impression of rotund solidity. Vegetarians seldom go hungry in this country.

Mourning dove butt shot.

Mourning dove butt shot.

This picture shows many of the mourning dove's identifying details, from the small head and pink feet to the gracefully tapered tail.

This picture shows many of the mourning dove’s identifying details, from the small head and pink feet to the gracefully tapered tail.

Despite the look of being "round on the ground", the mourning dove is a speedy flier, with the capacity to reach air speeds of 55 mph.

Despite the look of being “round on the ground”, the mourning dove is a speedy flier, with the capacity to reach air speeds of 55 mph.

The wind was fairly fierce today, ruffling feathers and causing the doves to squinch their eyes shut against airborne dust while they pecked for seeds.

The wind was fairly fierce today, ruffling feathers and causing the doves to squinch their eyes shut against airborne dust while they pecked for seeds.

Birds of a feather flock together.

Birds of a feather flock together.

It gives Pam and me a great deal of pleasure, knowing our place serves as a small bird sanctuary. In fact, the closer the mourning doves (and other small creatures) stick to our residence, the safer they are. We provide protection from predators of both the human and four legged sorts. These doves seem to know it, too. They do take off any time they see me out and about, but they never stay away for long.

These five doves seem at peace as they forage.  Which they should be; the looming west wall of the Border Fort, just a few yards away, provides protection against everything from coyotes to men with shotguns.

These five doves seem at peace as they forage. Which they should be; the looming west wall of the Border Fort, just a few yards away, provides protection against everything from coyotes to men with shotguns.

One of the more graceful poses taken by a mourning dove during today's photo session.

One of the more graceful poses taken by a mourning dove during today’s photo session.

Stalking the wily seed.

Stalking the wily seed.

Almost a resting, nesting pose.

Almost a resting, nesting pose.

Dark, slanted eyes.  Asian...or alien?  DNA from ET, perhaps?

Dark, slanted eyes. Asian…or alien? DNA from ET, perhaps?

That’s our mourning dove photo tour for the day, courtesy of our new Canon PowerShot SX260 HS digital camera and a few gray (and brown) birds under a gray Cochise County, Arizona, sky. The species in these photos is not the “snow white dove” Ferlin Husky sang about, but so what? In our book, doves are doves, and we’re happy to have plenty of them around.

4 thoughts on “Cochise County Birds: The Mourning Dove

  1. Beautiful detail to see in these pics. I will have to remember that the 260 is better than the 230 . I noticed a difference in the underside color from the tail end. Tan on one and white on others. Was that shadow, or a real difference?

  2. The 260 is MOSTLY better than the 230. The flash system is a lot easier to manipulate on the 230, and I like the 230’s On/Off button better. But at the end of the day, yes, it’s all about the final product, and the 260 really does produce. I may be doing a review later tonight (after working a while with Pam’s computer to keep squaring it away bit by bit).

    The detail is indeed beautiful. With the 230, I was getting none of that–although I hadn’t had 5 doves posing right outside my bedroom window before, either. I’m not sure about the white/tan differences between individuals, but I believe it’s real, not shadow. It is clear that on most if not all of the birds, the undersides are more tan toward the rear and white toward the front.

  3. Ghost, for some reason, the last two times I’ve tried to comment, the page won’t let me add my name and email address. It might be my ISP, which I’m fixing to fire and replace with one that’s more reliable.

    Anyway, your new camera takes awesome pictures. You always were a good photographer, but this camera does you and your subjects justice.

    I wanted to let you know I posted a diddy on Professional BS Writers Facebook page about where to find you. I have no idea how many members were your followers on HP, but I thought I’d spread the word as to where to find you.

  4. Hm. Sha, I have no idea what might be causing the glitch you describe. Frankly (since you’re going to “fire and replace” anyway), I rather hope it as at your ISP end instead of something I might need to be concerned about. 🙂

    Thanks; I agree. Having the right (i.e. ever better) equipment makes a huge different in most undertakings, but it really stands out in photography.

    Also thanks for the Facebook diddy. It helps not to be “lost in space”.

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