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THE MOURNING DOVE
(Zenaidura macroura)

OF the thirteen species of the family Columbidę found in North America the mourning dove is much the most common and widely distributed. In its delicate brown coloring, graceful body, and tapering tail it resembles its larger relative, the now extinct passenger pigeon. Because of its habit of nesting in isolated pairs, as well as its natural wariness, it is able to survive and flourish in populated regions where well protected, often nesting within town limits. In winter it is more gregarious, gathering in small flocks and frequently feeding around farm houses. Its low mournful cooing lends enchantment to the woods at evening.



MOURNING DOVE ON NEST ON A SLOPING LOG. THE JAGGED PIECE OF BARK AFFORDS SUFFICIENT HOLD FOR THE NEST


MOURNING DOVE'S NEST IN THE SHOOTS AT THE BASE OF A LEANING TREE

In its selection of nesting sites, the doves pick out odd and various places, sometimes choosing the hollow top of a broken tree, sometimes a limb (rarely higher than twenty feet), or again a low bush; still again it may build in a brush heap, or on a leaning log, where there is sufficient support. On the log shown in the photograph, a loose piece of bark provided a hold for the scanty framework of the nest. At best, the nest is a slight affair which does not hold together much longer than is necessary. The two white eggs, producing male and female, are laid one on the second day following the first, and hatch in fourteen days. Both birds take turns at incubating, the female sitting at night, the male in the daytime. The young thrust their bills, often both at a time, into that of the parent, which feeds them by regurgitating the food contained in its crop.

Because of its shyness, the mourning dove is very difficult to photograph. It generally deserts its eggs if one disturbs the surroundings in the least, remains long, or returns often. After the young are hatched, however, it is much less apt to desert, although in the writer's experience a dove will never return to its nest while a camera is near by.



THE YOUNG MOURNING DOVE SHOWS LESS DISTINCT SPOTS ON THE WING

Many previous attempts to photograph these birds failed before the pictures here shown were obtained. In this case, I moved toward the nest very gradually, with camera ready, placing it down at frequent intervals, and acting all the while as unostentatiously and unconcerned as possible. Despairing of getting closer I made the first exposure at about fifteen feet, then another at eight, and finally one at four feet. Before the last exposure I was forced to stand motionless behind the camera for half an hour, waiting for the sun to shine full on the bird, and the process of working up took, altogether, perhaps two hours. So slowly had I approached that the dove seemed hardly conscious of my presence. A similar attempt at the same nest the previous morning proved a failure, and it was only by going at the task in a most leisurely way that I was finally successful.



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