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I Love a Survivor

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

I first saw her come walking in with a flock of mourning doves, to the corn and sunflower seed I offer ground-feeders. It was February 15, 2018. For a moment I just stared at her, then I picked up the camera and started shooting. Her left wing was missing perhaps half its secondaries.

 but that was nothing to what I would see next.  Her right wing was practically gone. All the flight feathers save two long primaries had been torn out, some of her back feathers with them.

 I envisioned her struggling beneath a Cooper’s or perhaps a sharp-shinned hawk, held down while her wings were plucked nearly bald. Somehow, she must have struggled free and gotten away. I couldn’t imagine how, unless she hid in dense cover. Even that would be a weak defense against an accipiter; they tend to go in feet first after prey. For all I know, it happened right here, where the little male sharp-shinned hawk who's been hunting the yard this winter likes to hang out.

Particularly sweet that he's perched on the Destroying Angel birdbath my father made out of an old harrowing disc. Howdy DOD!!
Could he have been the one who plucked her? 
Thinking about the pluck shadows of the accipiter kills I've examined, there have usually been lots of wing feathers scattered around. I've always wondered why a hawk would pluck a bird's wings. All the meat is in the breast. Why bother?

After much thought, it occured to me that a small hawk holding prey as large as a mourning dove would do well to denude its wings before going in for the coup de grace. It's analogous to a housecat giving one quick bite to crush the shoulder of a songbird--an instinctive maneuver--almost invariably  the first thing a cat does to a bird it's caught-- that has given me far too many rehab clients who will never fly again. First, remove means of locomotion. Then, go in for the kill. 
Yep, I'm looking at you, crazy little sharpie boy. 

I love you in all your ferocious beauty, but I always heave a sigh of relief when you're done scoping the yard and you whirl off to terrorize somebody else.

I think the hairy woodpecker knows. But she's not talking. 

Well, this time Sharpieboy didn't get a meal. Here she is, still walking around.Somehow, she’d pulled it off. She'd been in the hawk's talons, and she'd struggled free.  Now here she was, trying to survive with half of one wing. She was nervous, her head held high. She dipped her head briefly to take a few grains of corn, then raised it to look for danger. She had to be even more vigilant than her flockmates, to see the predator first. I couldn’t imagine the constant stress she was under.

Inevitably, something frightened the doves and they all took off in a whirl of whistling wings. One remained. She froze, standing as tall as she could. She looked all around with barely perceptible head movements. The flock was long gone, but after checking carefully for danger, she sprang into the air in the direction they’d flown. My jaw dropped as I watched her rise on a steady 45 degree angle, her left wing pumping madly, carrying her up and forward. With the uneven thrust, she rolled hard to the right as she flew. My unbelieving eyes watched as she corrected with a half-roll left. On and on she twisted and corkscrewed until she was out of sight. What a bird. Wow! I wondered if I’d ever see her again.

Two days later, on February 17, she walked into the yard alone, from the direction of the compost heap. Thick tangles of trumpetvine crisscross in a dense lattice perhaps five feet deep.

To my amazement, new pinfeathers had already emerged from the empty feather follicles. Regrowth had started. Certainly, she was no more flightworthy than she'd been two days ago, but she was on her way. 

Another couple of days passed, and I saw her emerge from the trumpetvine tangle. It was February 19. I was moved to see her walking instead of flying. It seemed she'd decided to stay in the dense cover, close to my offerings of corn and seed. Let the flock travel. This bird had decided to lie low. 

She'd set up residence in the safety of the trumpetvine, and was commuting by foot to the cafeteria. And people say mourning doves are dumb.

Will you look at those secondaries! They're not only coming in; the feathers have burst their sheaths, like paintbrush tips! Even having studied the lightning development of baby birds, this seemed extreme for only four days' growth. Holy cow!

 She made her way quickly to the corn and filled her crop. I believe she was eating but once or twice a day, gobbling as much as she could, filling the baglike crop in her chest. The crop is an enlargement of the esophagus that serves as food storage. She could draw on that all day long.

She then gamely walked back into the tangle to digest, rest, and keep growing those feathers. Little thing's misshapen from all the corn she's packed in. Smart, smart, smart. Surviving. Doing what she has to to make it, given the handicap.

I am filled with admiration for this mourning dove. She announced her arrival in the yard on February 19 with a hard landing--a bounce and a full roll before she sprang to her feet and headed for the corn.
I shook my head and chuckled, and decided to call her Plucky.

It was hard to leave this story, this bird, and my watching post for a week to travel to California. I like following individual birds. I hoped hard that I'd be granted the privilege of seeing Plucky grow her wing feathers back and fly right. 

 I do love a survivor. 

Thank you for all your good thoughts and kindness. I have been surfing the invisible wave of your goodwill. :) 


Bless her heart! I share your love for survivors.
Of course, it'll be hard to identify her if/when her new feathers finish coming in!

What a great story. I don’t notice as much as normal people do so zi loved your nature blogs which give me a kind of second hand noticing. But will you be able to give us the end of the story?

Oh, the metaphors. Plucky, indeed. Love how the universe sends you so many survivors. Rock on, sister dove!

OK OK OK ...I take it back. I may have been one of those (cough cough) people who said mourning doves are dumb.
But they still build dumb nests.

(Can you see, or even hear my eye roll?)

I caught a little movement out of the corner of my eye a day or so ago, and was delighted to see a little mourning dove watching me through the French doors. It's not just their doe-soft coloring that I love, though that's part of their charm. It's their eyes, which must be just like all bird eyes, but seem to be rounder and blacker than other birds' eyes. More naive-looking, but also more watchful.

Love your story and her Plucky nickname. Perfect.

I'm still grieving over the dove feathers I found after the latest visits by a sharp shinned hawk that likes to stalk my bird feeders. I'm torn between how much I enjoy watching the feeder community and how guilty I feel providing a buffet for the sharpie.

I love survivors, too – like YOU!

Speaking of the superior ID skills of California birders (I’m referring to your previous post) you may want to check out the #7 Birder in the World’s blog - it’s hilarious... - he’s in CA and seems pretty obsessive :). (I should note - I am NOT a birder myself. I just like blogs that amuse or inspire while they sneak factoids in,)

I hope this little dove has survived and healed enough to fly and stay out of the clutches of hungry raptors. If you see her again, I know you'll let us know. We are fans of all those broken critters that cross paths with you and flourish under your watchful eyes.

Really wonderful, yea survivors!

Julie, I am in awe as always--for your ability to "pluck" hope out of the unlikeliest scenarios, thus benefiting the rest of us who don't have your gifts. My very best wishes to you in your tough situation, from me in mine.

She could be a character in an inspirational book. Amazing how fast the feathers grow, maybe her body's speeded up reaction.

You're not alone.

Mourning Doves had always struck me as a bit feckless -- by their overall look and their inability to build a cohesive nest. I stand (sit, actually) corrected! This little dove has touched my heart. Please let us know if you see her again and recognize her. An amazing and inspirational story!

Posted by Anonymous March 7, 2018 at 3:47 AM

I always saw a gentleness in mourning doves as they line the high wires and work the ground. Hope we hear more about this plucky one and she gets to join a flock again. Like Jayne, I was thinking of the metaphors also. Kim in PA

Thanks for sharing this incredible day by day story of Plucky. Hope her feathers continue to keep coming in and will have no more bad landings. Thanks for the sharing this inspirational story story.
World of Animals

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