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Canyon Notes

Madera Canyon Doves - 2005

 by Karen McBride

Not long before he left us for higher trails, President Bud Gode of the Friends of Madera Canyon wrote me an e-mail which said, "Karen, I have an idea for one of your columns. I think there are some people who would appreciate knowing the difference between the two common doves in Madera Canyon." And I think he was right. So Bud, this one is for you.

Actually, there are six different species from the pigeon/dove family (Columbidae) that have been seen in Madera Canyon. Two are very small: Inca Dove and Common Ground-Dove. Two are very large: Rock Pigeon (the common pigeon seen all over Tucson) and Band-tailed Pigeon (a large forest bird seen mostly in the highest reaches of the canyon in summer). In this article, we will compare and contrast the two medium-sized doves that are also by far the two most common. Both of these species can be found on the ground under the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge, and perched in the trees in that area. They are also found in larger numbers in the community of Green Valley.

Arizona’s most common dove, the Mourning Dove, is a pinky-brownish-gray, slender-looking bird about 12" in length, with a long, pointed, white-tipped tail. It is found in nearly every habitat in the state, and often in large numbers, especially around feeding stations. On take-off, the Mourning Dove's wings make a distinctively airy whistling sound, louder than that of other birds. Its call might sound a bit like an owl and may fool you at dusk, but is more mellow and less clipped: Aoo-WUH-o, oo,oo,oo.  It feeds almost entirely on seeds on the ground and will wolf them down, filling its crop quickly, and then will digest them later while resting.

Mourning Doves are prolific nesters and may produce up to six broods a year, more than any other native bird. And yet, they haven't learned much from all that nest-building. They raise their young on flimsy piles of short sticks, loosely stacked and easily blown away.  Sometimes I wonder how the eggs make it to hatching!

The other medium-sized dove that usually appears in March and leaves us in September is a larger, bulkier bird called White-winged Dove because of the obvious white patches on each wing when it flies.  These show as white edging along the bottom of the wings when folded. The tail is squared off and tipped with white and its song is distinctive: Auh-WHO-COOKS-FOR-YOU! This visitor loves the fruits and seeds of cactus, the nectar of the cactus flowers, and weed seeds and berries. It may nest in colonies in good feeding areas, but unfortunately its nest isn't much better than the Mourning Dove’s.

Both birds do two pretty unusual things in the bird world. They are among the few who drink by suction with their bills in the water, not lifting their heads to swallow after each mouthful. And, amazingly, they produce "pigeon milk" in their crops to feed their young. This rich mixture of fat and protein is the sole diet of the new hatchlings until they are able to digest seeds and fruit. They are so much a part of our desert environment that I can’t imagine a morning without their songs, and from now on they will remind me of Bud.

Mourning Dove

White-winged Dove

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