The Fragility of New Life
A Mourning Dove Story

Day 1


   

   Coah, coo, coo, coo. We hear this mournful call often in our back yard and at first we take very little notice. After all, the Mourning Dove is the most abundant Dove in the United States. But this morning there is something different happening. This long slim grey-brown bird with the small head and long pointed tail is nestled down in a hanging planter only a few feet from our dining room window.  On closer inspection, we can see nesting material peaking out from under the dove. The nest  is constructed by the female of loosely arranged twigs and leaves brought to her by the male.
Day 2


  

  During the course of the day, the male and female doves exchange places. They will take turns incubating the eggs  with the male usually incubating during the day, the female at night.  Males are slightly larger than the females, but there is no noticeable difference in coloration.

Day 3


  

 Incubation lasts approximately two weeks. We are not sure how far along these eggs are, so we begin to closely observe the nest  at all times of the day. Mourning Doves are monogamous and typically produce a clutch of two eggs. During our daily observations we see glimpses of the eggs as the male and female exchange places, but nothing more.
Day 4


   

   Finally, during the evening exchange, we can make out one of the squabs besides a remnant of shell. The eggs have hatched!
Day  5


   

  Squabs hatch featherless and grow rapidly. During the first few days after hatching, the squabs rarely have their eyes open for very long.
Day 5



Day 6



 

 After hatching, the young feed by sticking their heads far inside the adults' mouths to gorge on crop milk (also called Pigeon Milk).
Day 6



Day 6


Day 7



   

  Pigeon Milk is a fatty substance produced in the crop of the adults. Adults regurgitate the milk to feed it to their young. It is extremely rich in protein and fats. Gradually the pigeon milk will be replaced by seeds over a 5 to 6 day period.
Day 7






Day 8


   

 The Squabs continue to grow and become more active within the nest. Male and  Female continue to feed and provide warmth to the squabs as their feather growth continues. Until their feathers grow in, the squabs can not regulate their body temperature on their own.

Day 8



Day 8


Day 9



   

  The Squabs are preened by the adults. When awake their eyes are now opened wide, however, they still sleep most of the day. We are looking forward to the fledging of the Squabs which usually ocurs 14-15 days after hatching.

Day 9



Day 9


Day 10

Out of town for the weekend.
Day 11

Out of town for the weekend.
Day 12



   

  Shock, disappointment and sadness. We have been out of town the last 48 hours.  On our return we find one squab dead on the ground below the planter.  The other squab is dead in the nest, apparently from neglect or starvation. There is no sign of the adults.

    We have no idea what has transpired during the time we were gone. We probably will never know.

Coah, coo, coo, cooThat haunting call will forever make me think of these last twelve days and the fragility of new life.


POSTSCRIPT
In the southern portion of their range, Mourning Doves may have 3-6 broods per season, each with two eggs.  In an average year, one half to two thirds of the nests will be successful, but the mortality rate of juveniles during that year may be as high as 70%.  Despite this high mortality rate and the prevalence of hunting, Mourning Dove populations seem to be increasing in most regions. Life goes on.



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