In the movie “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, our hero delights in plucking tender squabs from the estate of Farmer Bunce (also chickens & cider from Mr. Boggis & Bean, but that is off my current subject). Squabs are baby pigeons – the domestic variety in the case of the story – but also the name for all babies of all members of the pigeon and dove family. Very young Squabs are, with the exception of pelicans and naked mole rats, perhaps the ugliest of babies on earth. They do improve slightly with age. Wild doves such as Mourning Doves, therefore, produce ugly squabs and this brings me to the point of this posting.
I encountered a newly independent Mourning Dove squab the other day. I nearly ran it over with my riding lawnmower. It appeared from nowhere and was not there on my first pass by this location. The small fellow made no effort to move out of the way as if resigned to certain death by rotary blade. He made no attempt to escape when I hopped off to shoo it away and even remained stationary when I bent down to engage it in conversation. No, he only held that “dove in the headlight look” and hunkered down next to a yellow Hawkweed as if pretending I couldn’t see him (see above). I felt that it would allow me to pick it up and indeed it did (see below).
I placed the creature on a tree limb in order to get it out of the way, although it looked uncomfortable and unbalanced even there (see here). “You are a bird,” I told him, “and you must perch with more authority than that.” It shifted its feet a bit after that remark and convinced me it would not fall out as I continued my mowing duties. “I’ll have to cut down your Hawkweed,” I remarked but saw no change of expression or position so returned to my tractor to do the deed. Later in the afternoon I snuck up on the mysterious squab and saw that it was raised up on its legs, actually perching rather than squatting, and fully asleep (see below). It looked more like a bad taxidermic mount than a sleeping wild thing but at least it was acting “normally.” By evening time the dove was gone and I was left contemplating what had just happened.
While the bird may have been out of sorts, it was not obviously sick or injured. I believe I can chalk up the whole thing to the fact that this was a squab still dazed by independence and yet un-wise to the ways of the world. Had I of been Mr. Fox, his little life would have ended before any further education was received. This bird was already at full size and possessed of most of its adult features. The scalloping pattern on the feathers and the presence of pin feathers about the face were the only remaining features that indicated youth (see here). There was that behavior thing too.
Hatchling year Mourning Doves, those who have already left the nest, are notorious loafers. They are known to spend nearly 20% of their day doing absolutely nothing. During this time, usually in the mid-afternoon, they will sit for an extended time in a squatting position with their head drawn in. Loafing and sleeping are two different things in this case. While the young birds will engage in cat-napping while loafing, they actually are just zoning out (which explains the” dove in the head light” look). It is believed that this behavior conserves energy but if you ask me it is risky business.
I, of course, am never consulted on Mourning Dove affairs. If I were, apart from doing away with this squab stupor stuff, I’d also send them all to nest building school and road crossing school. Mourning Doves build the flimsiest of nests and all hold the belief that they needn’t fly up from the road until a vehicle is within three feet of their location. Because doves are one of the commonest birds in North America, my advice is obviously not needed. I can only hope my little squab will get to the point where he or she can raise more ugly but successful squabs that will loaf their way into the future.