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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.