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Posts Tagged ‘Mourning Dove’

This pair just lit on a naked branch and posed for me!

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dove on a wire

Nothing is capturing my mood now than this little mourning dove out against the fading June sun.

I’m still in mourning. I feel a sadness, too, not just for Miley, but for the nation I was born in as it slowly fades away into the caprices and vagaries of ignorance and greed.

It’s hard to watch the news, and it’s hard to be outside in nature now.

But a little dove on the wire will do now.

dove

 

 

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There is a place not far from where my grandpa grew up that was called the Pigeon Roost.

He told me once that he asked his grandpa (my great-great grandpa) why they called it that.

He told him that that was where the big flocks of “wild pigeons” would roost, build their nests, and raise their young.

I’m pretty sure my great-great grandpa knew about these birds for a very simple reason– he probably shot them.

Virtually all farmers in passenger pigeon territory shot them by the score. They were shot because they were good to eat, and they were shot because they raided cornfields.

And they became extinct.

The birds required the existence of vast colonies in order to breed. If the numbers were too low, they simply would not nest.

If too many were shot, they could not produce enough offspring to replace the ones that were killed.

Also, the clearing of the forests meant that birds no longer had good nesting places. To make matters worse, one method of killing the pigeons involved burning down their nesting trees to make them fly out in the open where they could easily be shot.

At the Cincinnati Zoo, I remember seeing a memorial to Martha, the last passenger pigeon. She died as a captive of the zoo and with her, the story of this prolific pigeon came to an end.

As a kid, I read that the closest relative to the passenger pigeon was the mourning dove, a frequent visitor to the winter bird feeders. They also nested in the big white pines that overlooked the pond. When the winter wheat that had been set out as a food plot for deer ripened in the July sun, great flocks of mourning doves descend upon the wheat, pecking out the tiny kernels of grain, which they ground up in their crops to produce “pigeon milk” to feed their squabs in the tall pines.

Sometimes I’d think of these birds as being substitutes for the passenger pigeons, but then I’d realize that even those flocks are minuscule compared to the former teeming multitude that was once the passenger pigeon.

The birds were stand-ins. Counterfeits.

But I still took some solace in the well-established fact that these mourning doves were close relatives.

Ah.

But that it turns out that assumption was wrong.

Analysis of mitochondrial DNA extracted from passenger pigeon specimens and extant pigeon species found that passenger pigeons were not closely related to mourning doves at all.

Its closest living relative in North America is a pigeon of the West:

The band-tailed pigeon, Patagioenas fasciata, which lives in the western mountainous regions of North and South America, was the passenger pigeon’s geographically nearest relative. Other members of this genus are found in forests in parts of Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean.

That means that the mourning dove is even more counterfeit than I once thought.

Further, the passenger pigeon was even genetically distinct from the passenger pigeon family, which means when the passenger pigeon became extinct, a whole evolutionary line and genus went with it.

A double whammy.

So not only are mourning doves not close relatives of passenger pigeons, they were a unique offshoot of the dove and pigeon family that went extinct when they did.

Of course, I bet this finding changes the plans to clone the passenger pigeon using mourning doves.

The band-tailed pigeon or one of its relatives is probably a better choice.

I guess we didn’t know what we had when the passenger pigeon was around.

Its name is derived from the French word passager, which means “to pass by.”

The vast flocks of these pigeons would fly by as they migrated through their range.

But now the bird has passed us by. We didn’t think of it as unique at all.

We killed so many of them because we didn’t think our profligacy would affect them.

If there are so many of them, we thought, there will always be so many of them. Let’s kill a couple of hundred or so to fertilize the garden!

If only we had known what we were doing,

 

 

 

 

 

 

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