How can I possibly finish editing the first draft of my book with these two adorable Mourning Dove chicks in plain view from my writing desk? How can those innocent, little feathered faces be so darn distracting? Well, it’s not just them – it’s their parents too!
This is the third brood a dove couple has raised in this nest, which sits atop the corner of our 6-foot tall dog run, amidst shaded honeysuckle branches. Do they care that our schnauzer Roxanne goes out there a dozen times a day to relieve herself or simply bark at nothing? Nope! Mourning Doves are apparently quite robust. They can have up to six broods a year, typically two chicks each time. That’s twelve kids in twelve months! Those are some seriously “lovey-dovey” birds! They usually mate for life.
I’ve been privy to the doves’ childrearing practices three times now, so I’ve got the whole thing down pat: As soon as I spy the female on the nest, I know she and the dad will be taking turns sitting on the eggs for the next two weeks. They fly in and out of our covered patio all day long, as I write. Within 11-15 days, the babies hatch, but I won’t get a glimpse of them until they are too big for mom to sit on. By two-weeks old they’re ready to fly away, so my window of opportunity to view the youngsters is very brief. Sometimes, while taking my own lunch break, I’m lucky enough to witness their feeding – both hungry vultures vigorously sucking digested food from the poor parent’s beak simultaneously.
One month after hatching, mama and papa bird start preparing their kids for flight. The chicks are almost the size of the adults by then. First, they help them preen their feathers, and then comes the flying lessons. The parents swoop back and forth, and up and down, directly in front of the young birds. Sometimes they just flap in midair – like a hummingbird. Soon the chicks begin stretching their wings up to the sky, allowing the breeze to flow beneath their feathers. Then wild flapping ensues as they attempt to copy their parents. During this process, one adult hangs out on the ground – in case a chick lands down there – and the other remains up near the nest. While all this is happening, I block the doggie door so Roxanne can’t go outside.
When the parents decide their offspring are ready, they fly over to the large Mesquite tree in the wash and call to their chicks to join them, “Coo Coo…C’mon kids! Let’s go! It’s time for each fledgling to solo. One by one they flutter and waddle clumsily across the top of the wire enclosure until they come to the edge. It’s nerve-wracking for me – like watching my daughter drive by herself the first time. I’ve invested so much time and emotion into the birds by this point, I feel like a surrogate mom.
I’ve named these current kids Lenny and Squiggy. The little goofballs seem to be having some difficulties leaving home. It’s been exactly one month since they took residence in the nest up in the honeysuckle. For three days now, I’ve been watching the parents’ attempts to get their children to leave, expecting them to fly away at any moment. So far, it’s been a failure to launch. Ironically, I haven’t left my own house, for fear of missing the glorious solo flights over to the Mesquite tree. Perhaps mom and dad made their nest a bit too cozy? What young dove would want to leave their warm, safe haven for the scary, adult bird world? Lenny and Squiggy’s parents are calling them now…but they’re not budging. I hope they leave soon; I need to finish this book!