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Our Resident Dove: Lonesome Or Not?

For the past four years a mourning dove has overwintered in the town of MacGregor. Presumably the same bird, it has come to feed and drink in our backyard almost every day for the past four winters. Because it was always by itself, we named it “Lonesome Dove” (from the Texan town and movie, of that name). Most mornings soon after it was light, Lonesome would appear and begin feeding on the ground under our bird feeders. It would stay for half an hour or so, and usually reappear once or twice more, later in the day. A late-afternoon snack, just before dark, was very common. We don’t know where Lonesome spent the night, or where else he/she went during the day, but we were pleased to have this hardy bird visit our feeders.

Mourning doves are birds that normally migrate, although occasionally a few do stay the winter. For example, in the Christmas Bird Count of 2009, seven mourning doves were reported in Manitoba, including five doves in Brandon and one each in Dauphin and The Pas. However, later in the winter, in the Great Backyard Bird Count held in February, 2010, “our” dove was the only one reported. (Statistics collected for the 2010 Christmas count are not yet finalized, and do not include ours, but so far show one mourning dove in Winnipeg.)

The first winter, we didn’t expect the bird would survive, despite having a food source, for frostbitten toes are a danger for doves that overwinter. When we went away for a couple of weeks, we created a covered area beside the house to keep away the snow, and asked a neighbour to put out food. We were delighted, upon our return, to find Lonesome still coming regularly to our backyard. He/she stayed all winter.

With the arrival of warmer weather, and with other doves now around, we didn’t know if any of them were “our” dove. Most were in pairs, and we hoped Lonesome had found a mate and would migrate come fall. We didn’t expect the bird to reappear the next winter, but it did – alone, as before. The third winter it stayed again. That year we bought a heated bird bath, so now it had a place to drink water, which it seemed to appreciate.

This fall it seemed that our lonesome friend had not stayed. For several weeks we hadn’t seen any sign of a dove. Then, the morning after the first major snowfall, there it was! We watched as it checked out the several places where we normally put out bird food, so we assumed it was the same bird. Apparently, doves are a bird with a long lifespan. The record holder, according to bird expert Rob Parsons of Winnipeg, is 31 years, although wild birds would not be expected to live nearly that long.

This winter, Lonesome has come more frequently and stays longer. It usually drinks from the bird bath and feeds regularly. We now have a couple of teepee-shaped, covered feeders to help keep the snow off the seeds we put out – a mixture of small black-oil sunflower seeds, white millet and canola. Sometimes, when the sun is shining, the bird sits there quietly sunning itself.

On December 20 we had an exciting experience. As we sat eating lunch and watching Lonesome out our large window, asecond dove suddenly flew in. It landed on the ground beside Lonesome and immediately started eating. The newcomer was somewhat smaller with more definite white edges on its tail, so we could tell them apart. Otherwise, the plumage was similar. Lonesome seemed excited by the newcomer. We assumed, because it was smaller, that it was a female and Lonesome was a male. (The smaller one could, of course, be a young one, but we decided to assume it was female and our resident bird a male.) Lonesome watched as the newcomer began to eat. Soon he flew to the heated bird bath for a drink and the newcomer followed. Then he flew to a second feeder nearby, one which is several feet above the ground. The newcomer immediately followed again. It was definitely as if Lonesome was showing the newcomer what was available and offering to share the place. The two fed there for 10 minutes or so, and eventually they flew away together.

Late in the afternoon, both doves appeared again for more food and drink. The newcomer ate voraciously and stayed eating even after Lonesome disappeared. Obviously it was hungry. When it was almost too dark to see it from our window, the newcomer also flew off.

Since thenbothdoves appear regularly, several times a day, to eat and drink. Often they come together, sometimes separately. We have tentatively named the newcomer “Notso” (as in “not so lonesome”) but perhaps we should change Lonesome’s name, too. We are certainly enjoying the drama of having two doves. Will both stay here all winter? Will they form a mating pair, come spring? The tale (or tail) continues to unfold. – Donna Gamache writes from MacGregor, Manitoba

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