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A Lucky Dove

Sunday, June 20, 2010


April 21, 2010: The phone rings. A man with a rough, gravelly voice tells me he's got a baby mourning dove that fell out of a nest in his yard. Right away he gets points for knowing what it is; 99% of the people who call me have a "baby bird" without a clue what it is. "I think it's a robin. Or a finch." One guy called me and said he had this weird bird that he thought was probably a pheasant. I walked him through a bunch of questions about size, color, and bill shape and deduced that he'd found a car-hit whip-poor-will. And whip-poor-will it was.

Anyway, we went through the drill of establishing whether we had a prayer of returning it to its nest. Modos build crappy little twig platforms that probably shouldn't be called nests. They're more like launching pads for premature babies. No, the nest was 16' up in a white pine at the end of a branch. And he had 7 barn cats hunting his yard. :-/ We talked about that. Getting a little lecture is part of the price of taking a baby bird off someone's hands. "Barn cat" is the catch-all phrase people use for free-roaming cats. It subtly sanctions the situation; it implies that the cats have a job, keeping a barn free of rodents. But they also breed like locusts, pass along disease, keep the surrounding area free of fledgling birds, and create many more problems than they address. If you could just train a cat to kill only house mice, instead of every native wildlife species it can grab...sigh. In researching rabies for the Zickbat posts, I learned that feral cats are a rapidly growing reservoir for this deadly virus, which casts those often government-subsidized feral cat colonies in an interesting light, doesn't it? Uh oh. Here I go on feral cats again. Must...move...away...from...green...kryptonite, unhhh.....

So I looked at my calendar and decided I had a month and a half to give to a baby dove and drove into town to pick it up. I took a syringe of parrot baby formula with me and fed it right there on Don's knee as he sat at his desk behind the cafeteria at our community college. The dove looked pleasantly surprised to have its empty crop suddenly filled with warm formula, and Don was enormously pleased to have this little bird finally full of food and in expert hands. I was happy to have met Don--he is well-versed in wild things, a farm boy like my dad was.



The dove, which looked to be about 13 days old and about a week from being able to leave the nest, looked little and lost in the covered tank that would be her interim home, so I made her (we couldn't tell its sex, so randomly assigned one) a nest of grasses and put a chipmunk in for warmth and snuggling.

Awww. Doves are very tactile creatures and appreciate being sat upon.

It wasn't long before Olivia (as Phoebe named her) was sitting upon the chipmunk, and crapping on him, too.

It also wasn't long before Liam and Phoebe fell in love with Libby Lou. (Olivia seemed a little formal for such a nuzzly little thing.)

By April 25, Libby was starting to show interest in small peckable things.

She picked up seeds, which we kept strewn everywhere she was, tested them with her bill, and then flung them. I didn't see her actually eat one until April 28, and captured the moment with my camera. Having syringe fed her every two hours, dawn to dusk, for a week, I was very happy to see something else go down that gullet. In this photo, she's about 20 days old. As soon as I saw her swallow a seed, I started drawing back on feedings, but she would be dependent on the syringe for quite awhile longer--until May 10, in fact, when she turned 32 days old.

There was the problem of what to do with her when we all took off for the New River Birding and Nature Festival the next day: April 29. That's the thing about raising birds. You can't exactly leave a note for the neighbor telling her how to syringe-feed your baby dove every two hours. You can't pay somebody enough to do that. So Libby Lou attended her first birding festival.

I never could have taken Libby on without my crack bird-raising assistant, Phoebe. She had been learning how to syringe-feed Libby and was getting really good at it; in fact she even got Libby to gape for her, which makes feeding much easier. So Phoebe took Libby along with her wherever she went while I was occupied all day leading field trips.


It was a little inconvenient, but Phoebe never complained. She loves Libby Lou. So did Little Orange Guy and Little Orange Librarian.

Meeting Sara and Kelly was the bomb. We got along like a fisherman's shanty afire. We got along like cod tongues and potatoes, like strong tea and Carnation evaporated milk.** Like partridgeberry squares and...oh well, you know what I mean. Just met 'em, already miss 'em.



Libby quickly transformed from a bit of an ugly doveling


to a four-ounce beauty. She still had a ways to go, but she was surely one lucky dove.



**obscure Newfoundland references for LOG and Kelly

14 comments:

I'm so glad you posted this, julie. After reading about her, I've been wanting to see photos of her. She's one very lucky little dove. Love that pic of her under the stuffed chipmunk. Is there anything cuter than that? I don't think so.

Ha ha ha. Looks like little Libby Lou Zickefoose is very happy with everything about her new life. Years ago someone at work found a near naked baby bird on the sidewalk after a storm and then brought it to me because she didn't know what to do with it. I then brought the baby bird to a nature center and was told it was a starling and being a non-native, they would not accept her. I ended up taking her home and feeding her every 15 minutes from sun up to sun down. Luckily this was tolerated when I brought her to work every day (I work in a major corporation). Anyway, she became an excellent pet and just turned nine years old last week. Starlinka is an excellent mimicker so besides spending time with a very sweet creature, I get to hear things like "You're so beautiful" and "You're so smart" every single day. Personally I think all wild creatures should stay in the wild but with Starlinka I had no alternative. Besides, she was very imprinted. Lucky for both of us, it turns out starlings can handle life living as a pet pretty well. Mozart had a pet starling that he adored and Konrad Lorenz had one named Friedrich that went on rounds with him when he was a doctor in a prison camp. When he was freed from the camp, he requested the Nazis indicate in written form that he was allowed to bring Friedrich home with him. Good luck with Libby Lou. She looks like a very happy girl.

Thanks to Libby, I now talk to all our resident mourning doves. They seem to know I'm to be trusted.

What a little sweetie! I love the shot of her under the chipmunk.

I love this post! My sister once had a mourning dove nesting atop a pillar cornice under her porch. Despite a nest of seemingly shabby construction, the mother had success in hatching two babes. When they fledged, my sister even got to see the mother warming one chick on the ground its first night out, under one of her hostas! I was insanely jealous.

Seeing Libby Lou, I am again insanely jealous :-) The stuffed chipmunk "mother" is a riot!

A crack assistant, indeed! She is awesome. She could even text Zoey while feeding Libby Lou.

And your previous post just makes me want to move back to SE Ohio! Yikes!

Oh hurray--I have been waiting for the straight poop (so to speak)on Libby Lou.
Now you made me a happy reader.
The best photo (for me) is of Phoebe holding Libby whilst talking on the phone.

Doves aren't the brightest birds in the flock, but how can one resist that soft beauty and endearing tranquility; and despite those flimsy nests they've evolved a hugely successful breeding pattern.
And hoooray for crackerjack assistants!

Mourning doves are lovely little birds, aren't they? At the rehab centre I work at, we have a juvenile MODO in right now that smacked into a window. Luckily, she wasn't badly hurt and will hopefully be released soon.

The rehab centre I'm at has a policy of being as hands-off as possible with the animals to prevent socialization to humans, and we do our best to find same-species nestmates or role models, or barring those, at least a mirror to keep babies company. Julie, I've been reading your blog for a long time, and it seems like you take the opposite approach, being very hands-on with the young ones. Do you find that the babies you raise still go right back to being wild once they're on their own? Are they any different from young birds raised the way they are at the centre I'm at?

Posted by Kathleen June 22, 2010 at 9:30 AM

I love the look of young MODO's and how they need to grow into their beaks!

Meeting Libby the dove was one of the highlights of the festival for me--a great educational experience in its own right. Did she sleep through the night, or did you have to wake up every two hours to feed her still? (If so, all the more kudos for being so chipper!) So nice to see that this story had a happy ending!

To Maria--when I was a kid I had a book written by a woman who had a similar experience to you, titled "Arnie the Darling Starling". No great work of literature, that, but I loved the story all the same!

So sweet. I agree, It is a very luck dove. I wish had the chance to meet that luck dove. It is a great pleasure to meet it. Thank you for sharing this blogs. I will be visiting this blog more often.

I regret not walking along the path in West Virginia to meet and hold her...

I am too clever for you, Mr. V. Igra, for I know you are a hapless spammer. Something about your name tipped me off.

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