Thursday, January 20, 2011

At the Feeder

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

At the Feeder

Much activity has been at the bird feeders this past week, and one of my favorite views and sounds came from observing the mourning dove. Their gentle woo-oo-oo-oo sound made from their cooing perches that gives the bird its name can comfort us, and the rapid flight on whistling wings is pleasant when they burst into the air.

Mourning doves feed mostly on the ground, swallowing seeds to store them in their enlarged esophagus we call the crop. One mourning dove was found to have over 17,000 seeds in its crop. Once they are finished feeding, they fly to their safe perch for digestion of their meal. Wild seeds, grasses, herbs, cultivated grains, and the occasional berry make up the most of this dove’s diet, with a once in while meal of snails. The birds peck or push aside ground litter while searching for food.

Known as a lover of baths in the sun or rain by lying on the ground or on a tree limb, mourning doves stretch out a wing, holding it in place. Our bird baths and shallow pools of water are also bathing places, and the doves will bathe in dust as well. They will often gather at their drinking spots at dawn or dusk. The bird drinks through suction, not needing to lift their heads.

Adult mourning doves feed their nestlings "pigeon milk," milk secreted from their crop lining. This food is fed to the hatchlings for three days, more nutritious than cow or human milk because of its protein and fat. Except for during the breeding season, the doves roost communally in conifer or deciduous trees, spending more time in them on colder winter days. Take a walk outdoors, and look for their roosting areas, listen to their mournful morning call, and enjoy the beauty in our own back yard.

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, On Lake Owen: The Art of Walter Bohl, in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also find us on the web at to learn more about our exhibits and programs.

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