A much-too-close encounter with a curious mourning dove leads to several ruffled feathers.
By Irene E. Pollock
The person who first said “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” probably never tried to catch a bird with his or her bare hands. More than likely, that person was equipped with a faithful bird dog and on a hunting expedition.
Up until one fateful day, my husband had never attempted to catch a bird with his bare hands, nor had I, but there he was, grabbing frantically at thin air while a terrified mourning dove redecorated the dash, the furniture, and the carpet inside our lovely motorhome. More about that in a moment.
The mourning dove is actually a game bird legally hunted in approximately 40 states. This monogamous, gentle bird may have just been seeking refuge when it decided to venture into our motorhome.
We were homeward bound after an eventful cross-country trip. Having spent two days at the scenic Elephant Butte State Park just outside of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, we were packed and ready to move on. Our campsite had no septic hookup, so before leaving we stopped at the dump station near the park exit. Someone left the RV’s door open, and when I looked up a beautiful brown mourning dove was perched inside on the dash right in front of me. I never heard the whistling of its wings. I never saw the gray-brown blur. It just appeared. I couldn’t believe my eyes. A bird was inside our motorhome.
My screams must have seemed a trifle loud to the bird, because it began an impossible quest to fly through the huge front window. It beat its beak uselessly against the glass, over and over again, while I sat frozen in my seat. I always thought doves were a symbol of peace and gentleness. This event was far from peaceful. Of the 400 million doves in America, why did this one feel the need for adventure in my motorhome?
Where was my husband? Why wasn’t he responding to my frantic cries? He knew how I felt about birds. I liked them, but not up close and personal, and this bird was getting far too personal. All 12 inches of its long, elegant body were straining to escape this glass prison.
Forgetting that my husband was up to his elbows with hoses of various kinds, I ran outside shrieking, “There’s a big bird inside the motorhome!” I can’t repeat his exact reply in this article, but as colorful as it was, he didn’t lose his cool. Calmly walking around to the open door and slowly venturing inside, he started waving at the dove with a flyswatter.
“Open the window,” I volunteered from outside the coach, thinking my advice was quite helpful. No way was I going back inside to help him. Through the window I could see the panic in the bird’s eyes. I held tightly to a broom while my husband and the dove swatted and fluttered, respectively. The bird’s powerful leg muscles constantly launched it just out of my husband’s reach. After several more minutes of mayhem, my husband suddenly lunged through the air like a hopeful center fielder. He reappeared with handfuls of brown feathers. The bird fluttered out the window, minus most of its tail feathers. We each breathed a big sigh of relief and set about cleaning up the mess.
Suddenly, two women dressed in hiking gear and wearing binoculars emerged from the path on the edge of the road. Walking quickly toward the motorhome, they looked very determined.
“What’s going on here?” one of them demanded, as they spied the strange shape of a half-nude dove flying over their heads. They definitely were birders and they were showing deep concern. I’m sure they thought we were trying to capture the dove for nefarious or perhaps culinary purposes.
“We had a flying visitor in our RV, but my husband convinced it to leave,” I said, desperately trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation.
All of a sudden, several brown feathers came flying through the motorhome’s door, landing right at our feet. My husband has many talents, but good timing is not one of them. (It was quite obvious that he preferred cleaning up the mess inside to helping smooth any feathers, human or otherwise, outside.) One of the ladies began gathering up the delicate feathers in her hands. I silently wondered how she was going to help the bird in question with these feathers.
“I’m sorry, but it was an accident,” I offered weakly. As I pointed to the bare-tailed dove sitting on a low branch of a creosote bush, I felt compelled to say, “The bird in the hand has become the bird in the bush.”
My feeble attempt at levity brought another stern look, making me feel as though I were back in fifth grade.
“That dove will be at a distinct disadvantage,” one of the ladies chirped. I wondered if New Mexico had a hunting season. If it did, she was right. This little dove wouldn’t make its allotted 10 years of life without its tail feathers, not to mention its possible difficulties in wooing a mate. Tail dragging would be out of the question.
I knew there was nothing more I could say to remedy what had happened, so with the promise of a considerable donation to the park, I cowardly turned and headed for the safety of the motorhome. As we drove away I heard my husband mumble, “Is a dove in the hand worth two birders in the bush?”
What Should You Do If A Bird Flies Inside Your Motorhome?
If a bird finds its way inside your coach, let it find its way out. That’s the advice of David Oehler, curator for birds at the Cincinnati Zoo.
To do so, Mr. Oehler said, “Darken areas and give the bird a door that’s open where it’s light. Most birds don’t like to be in a darkened area and they will usually fly toward opened areas that are well lit.”
This means covering up the windshield with the privacy drapes or shades; covering and darkening any closed windows; and letting the open door be the brightest point in your coach. “Make sure not to have a closed window that is lit, because they won’t see the window and will try to fly through what they perceive is an opening,” he said. “If you have a window you can’t open, get some cardboard or a sheet or something and cover it up, so they won’t try and fly through the glass.”
Next thing you know (and hope!), the bird will be back out the door.
Cool Facts About Mourning Doves
- Mourning doves, like other pigeons, feed their young “crop milk,” which is secreted by the crop lining. This is an extremely nutritious food with more protein and fat than human or cow milk. Crop milk is produced by both adult doves and is fed to the hatchlings for three days. They soon replace this diet with seeds. The production of “milk” is a trait shared by cockatiels, parakeets, penguins, and flamingos.
- The mourning dove is the most abundant dove in the United States and is also the most widely hunted game bird. Nationwide, 41 million doves are harvested annually.
- Mourning doves range from Alaska and southern Canada down to Panama.
- Mourning doves are monogamous and often have as many as three broods in one season.
- Annual continent-wide hunting mortality for mourning doves is estimated at 10 percent to 15 percent of the fall population. Because of the birds’ long breeding season, the dove population can sustain hunting.