Sunday, July 3, 2011

Looking for doves in all the wrong places

This is a short tale about paying attention, and also a bit of a primer on identifying two different types of doves: the common mourning dove, and the non-native (and spreading) Eurasian collared dove.

Earlier in the year, I was becoming annoyed by my inability to find a sample member of the Eurasian collared dove, for as I described in my post, "The 100th Year Bird," I was in the midst of a listing frenzy, and I knew that they should have been easy to find. I'd seen them twice before in central Illinois with no problem. Plus, everyone else was seeing them. Even one of my non-birding co-workers saw one in her yard in Deer Creek. "There was a weird bird at my feeder this morning," she said. "Maybe it was a type of pigeon. It was gray and had a sort of black band across its neck."

"Eurasian collared dove!" I cried. If Deer Creek were any closer, I would have departed work early, pleading food poisoning, and headed for her house, pronto, in hopes it would still be there. OK, not really. But that's the kind of behavior that listing can inspire.

Then, I sorta backed off from the listing. It's not like I decided, "Wow, I'm obsessed with birds, I need to get a little perspective." It's more like I got derailed by life circumstances, luckily good ones: buying a house and adopting two dogs. I missed the tail end of spring migration (and spring migration is only, like, the best time of the whole year, you know? Oops...I am old enough to remember the whole "Valley Girl" phase from the eighties, and sometimes it slips out a bit....), and if you miss that, what's the point? Might as well just enjoy the birds you see, and better luck next year. (Last year, I was similarly derailed, when I became so depressed over the BP Oil Spill that I barely birded for several weeks.)

So, although dipping out on the doves still bugged me, I wasn't actively looking for them anymore. For one thing, the extra commuting time and the fact that on most walks I have two dogs in tow has really cut down on my birding opportunities.

Then, earlier in the week, as I strolled around the streets of Clinton, IL, with two dogs and no binoculars, I saw a pair of doves fly up to a telephone wire. I probably wouldn't have glanced up if it weren't for the strange noise they made. It was a weird guttural sound, more like what I would expect to hear from a crow. But these were doves.... I peered upward, a bit confused, because they were bigger than a mourning dove but smaller than a pigeon and just what the heck sort of dove sounds kinda like a crow?

Then they cooed. Hoo HOO hoo, hoo HOO hoo. Three insistent syllables, with the emphasis on the second. OMG, Eurasian collard doves! (If I reverted to the slang of my youth, I'd call them bitchen!) Right on the streets of my new hometown! And I never even thought to look for them here.

Here's the part about paying attention. I highly doubt that those collared doves just appeared overnight. In fact, I'd probably glimpsed them at some point, as I was escorting my dogs around town, as I saw them a mere few blocks from my house. But because I wasn't expecting them, I probably thought, "mourning dove," and moved on...until the strange sound made me look twice. (Click on the links above to hear the different calls of these two types of doves; it's unmistakable.)

That's actually the second time this has happened to me---the first was in Texas, when I barely glanced at a white-winged dove (assuming it was the lowly mourning dove) until it took flight, and made such a different noise as it launched into the air.

So once again, I realized: the more I look (and listen), the more I see. And even when I would swear otherwise, more often than not, I haven't paid as close attention as I could.

This morning was the second hot, humid, horrid day of the Fourth of July weekend, so once again I shelved my plans to explore Clinton Lake some more (I really, really hate hot, humid weather...I know I said negative things about cold winters but now I take it back!), and decided instead to walk around town and look for photographic evidence of the two different doves.

Getting the mourning dove was easy peasy. I can barely walk a block without spying one. Note the black spots on the back (absent with the collared dove):

Also, check out the markings on the face. If you look at them closely, they really are kind of sweet.

Their call is really distinctive, too, a sort of absent-minded, plaintive cry. If I were transcribing it, it would go hoo-WOO-hoo-ooo-ooo. Five syllables. Unlike the collared dove's insistent three. (Luckily you are reading this and so I will not be tempted to embarrass myself by doing imitations....)

The more I compared, the more I realized that there is truly no reason for anyone to mix the two up. If you are strolling along and see this shape on a wire, think "mourning dove":

Another view:

As I was taking these photos, I heard the call of the collared dove, and found one perching high in a tree (with a starling and a house sparrow, so three non-natives at once!). Unfortunately, the representative of this species was less cooperative, and would not fly down for a close up, but even from this angle, I do think it's quite different than the mourning dove.

Besides the black ring on the neck (which I actually could not see from this angle), the collared dove is bigger, bulkier, and seems paler. I will keep trying to get a good photo of one...but in the meantime, it's a good lesson learned for me: always pay attention!


  1. What a humorous post, and thoughtful, too. It's oh-so-true of me as well. Some days I just can't seem to get my "bird eyes" on, and wouldn't see an ostrich unless I ran into it! That's where it helps to bird with two. Maybe the other person will see the ostrich. Birding with dogs and/or small children is an exercise in frustration! Best to just ignore the birds! Mom PS Does the collared dove also have a stumpier tail?

  2. I don't know if it's stumpier, but it seems more squared off at the bottom, doesn't it? The mourning dove's tail is pointier.