By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator
Continuing with our story…
The pair of baby Mourning Doves grew quickly, and five days after their first photo session I visited the nest again. The adult female, who sat on the nest brooding(warming) the young, flew away when I approached within 6 feet of the nest. I picked up the baby, noted that it seemed to have doubled in weight in just 5 days, took a couple photographs, replaced it in the nest, and watched the adult dove come right back to feed the babies. At this point, the babies were eating a diet of regurgitated seeds.
Notice in the above photo how the feathers are emerging in orderly lines called tracts. At this stage, the feathers are not providing much warmth or insulation, so brooding by the female is critical to keep the babies protected in cold conditions.
Just five days later, on April 11, I visited the nest for the last time. I knew the babies would be close to fully-feathered and getting ready to fly in a matter of a few days. This time the young dove more than filled my hand, its long wings and tail hanging over the edge of my palm. Its weight had certainly tripled in just 12 short days of life. The fresh, full-grown feathers on the baby dove gave a very “scaly” pattern to its body.
I carefully placed the dove back in the nest beside its just-as-big nestmate. The youngsters’ bodies spilled out over the edges of the nest and there is no way an adult dove could not sit atop these babies anymore!
In the late afternoon of April 14, I decided to check on the nest, thinking the babies would likely be ready to fledge. In a stroke of luck(and with a co-worker as witness) , we watched the baby Mourning Doves perched on the edge of the nest. With the adult doves walking anxiously on a nearby rock wall, suddenly both baby doves took off in a whir of brown and white. Their wings felt the rush of air beneath as they experienced flight for the first time.
In just 15 days, the baby doves transformed from a helpless naked chick with eyes closed, to a sleek and speedy flighted bird capable of speeds exceeding 60 miles-per-hour. The whole nesting cycle took exactly one month, from nest building to egg laying to hatching to fledging. Amazing!
Stay tuned for Part 3, where we look at the important lessons learned from these baby Mourning Doves and how this story can help us dispel some common myths about birds.