When Doves Fly


Watercolor in progress by Nancy J. Bailey

The trill of the mourning dove is a sad sound to some people, but to me it has a calming effect, almost like an avian lullaby. The doves mate for life and there are two pairs that have been hanging around our pond for the past several years. They build a flimsy nest in the hedge in front of the house, and they walk around in the grass under the bird feeder searching for seeds, always together. They even drink together. They drink like cattle, with their beaks pointed downward, immersed into water, only raising up when they are done. They are among the few birds who don’t have to look up at the sky to swallow the water.

doves drinking

Mourning doves are migratory, but one pair of ours decided to stick around all winter, because I kept feeding them every day. Doves like to walk around and eat seeds. These don’t flee like other birds, sometimes not even flying away when I flung the seeds out. They would just waddle off across the snow in their shuffling gait, their soft brown feathers providing sufficient insulation even on the ground. They came waddling back when I went back inside.


I secretly thought of them as Ricky and Lucy. The couple who migrated were Fred and Ethel. One cold day, Lucy sat quietly on the ground, hunkering down on her red feet like a sad little church lady. I took a bath towel and approached her, talking to her softly. She took off in an attempt to fly, then plummeted to the driveway.

I flung the towel over her body and scooped her up. I put her in a cardboard box in the bathroom, near the heater and left it covered with a towel so she could stay in the dark.

I thought maybe she was dehydrated. I set up a birdcage for her and took out the bottom grate so she would have a flat surface to walk around, a piece of wood to sit on, and a scattered mix of seeds. I gave her a special treat, safflower seeds, which are a favorite of doves.

I took a syringe of water and carefully dribbled some into her mouth, and she did swallow it. After that, I left a bowl of water in her cage. She ate voraciously, her eyes were bright and she seemed to be in fine condition. She wasn’t alarmed by my coming and going from the room. I thought it was because she was so accustomed to me.

dove lucy

On the third day, she started walking in circles and her head was tipping to the side. I had to give up my idea of letting her go back to Ricky when the winter storm was over.

On the wildlife rehabbers submission form, I marked that I would like to have Lucy back. They assured me that they try to release birds, especially birds that have mates, back in the area where they come from.

I called a couple of times to check up on Lucy. She had recovered, but they were reluctant to let her go in the freezing, rainy February. Meanwhile Ricky was picking around the bird feeder alone. I felt bad for him, but knew Lucy was in good hands.

Finally, when the long, hard winter was beaten back by the pervading sun, there were three doves under my feeder. Fred and Ethel had returned from their winter in the tropics. A couple of days later, I looked out and there were four doves.

Had Ricky gotten hooked up already? What would Lucy think?

When I called the wildlife rehabbers to find out if I could come and pick her up, they said, “Oh. We released all the adults a few days ago.”

I was pretty upset that they hadn’t called me; after all they had promised to. But maybe it didn’t matter. The timing seemed just too coincidental.

The rehabilitation center was ten miles away. I don’t know where they released her. .. But for a bird capable of migrating thousands of miles, flying ten miles to get back home doesn’t seem like a big deal. Could it be? Is this Lucy 1 or Lucy 2?

If you could talk, you’d have some splainin’ to do.

dove stretch pond



About Nancy J. Bailey

Artist, author, bad karaoke singer. Woodsy ragamuffin. Mom of a horse named Clifford who plays fetch and paints with watercolors. He visits libraries and schools with me, to promote literacy and making the world a better place. Yes, he is house trained, no, he doesn't live in my house! I have written three books about Clifford. But my newest book, THE NORTH SIDE OF DOWN, is co-written by my awesome sister Amanda, who has Down syndrome. Her unexpected one-liner wisecracks can always make me laugh. If you make me laugh, you've made my day!
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