Baby Birds: A Dove Story

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator

Travelling back in time to Spring, let’s re-visit an amazing series of observations:

As surely as April showers gave way to May flowers, so does the world of birds spring forth with new life.  Everywhere you look, birds are building nests, incubating eggs, and feeding babies.  Baby birds grow quickly and in seemingly no time at all are ready to leave the nest.   During this critical time of pre- and post-fledging, baby birds sometimes have difficulties and wind up in the hands of a concerned human.  The following is a story to help us all better understand the world of baby birds.

A female Mourning Dove sits on her nest, incubating two eggs. Image by Derek Stoner, March 28, 2011.

On March 15 we noticed a pair of Mourning Doves outside of the Ashland Nature Center conference room, courting and then mating.  Within minutes, both doves could be seen carrying small twigs up to the top of a stone support pillar, where a protected shelf area would hold their nest.  Interestingly, the doves built their nests atop an American Robin nest from the year before. 

On March 18, I checked the nest and found two white eggs.  Every single Mourning Dove nest I have ever seen contains two eggs, so I knew that the clutch was complete and the female would start incubating the eggs.  With an expected incubation period of 14 days, that meant the eggs should hatch on March 31.

A 2-day old Mourning Dove nestling, or squab, nestled briefly in the palm of my hand. Image by Derek Stoner, April 1, 2011.

The last two weeks of March had typically cold and wet weather, with some night plunging below freezing  and a low of 25 degrees on March 25.  Through it all, the female Mourning Dove stayed on the nest, keeping the eggs at a constant 102 degrees F.   On schedule, two tiny, naked nestlings entered the world on March 30.

On April 1, I visited the nest and began the careful documentation process of these baby birds.  With the mother away briefly, I lifted one baby dove out of the nest, held it in my palm, and snapped a few photos with my other hand.  Replacing the baby in the nest, I watched the mother return within less than a minute.  Although I could not see the activity, I could tell that she was feeding her babies. 

Mourning Doves (and other members of the pigeon/dove family) feed their young “crop milk” which is an extremely nutritious protein-enriched fluid excreted by the crop of both male and female doves.  For the first few days of life, baby Mourning Doves are fed an exclusive diet of crop milk.   Not surprisingly, this diet helps the babies grow very quickly!

Stay tuned for part two of this story, and see how these baby Mourning Doves grew and successfully fledged from the nest.   

Leave a Reply