Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Streptopelia decaocto

This is the first year we’ve noticed a new kind of bird in Central Missouri. We have a pair, and they’ve been hanging around our neighborhood. They feed beneath our bird feeders.

We generally only see one at a time. At first we thought it was just an odd-looking mourning dove, but no: It’s too large, too chunky, and it’s a lot paler. And there’s the distinctive black collar that only goes around the back half of the neck.

The overall effect? It’s as if a mourning dove and a pigeon “got it on,” and their offspring accidentally got dipped in bleach.

The call is an almost owl-like hooting: Hoo HOO, hoo, all more or less on the same pitch. Unlike mourning doves, these don’t twitter their feathers as they take off and land, though they sometimes call a gravelly, nasal, caaaawww as they swoop in to land.

Oh, yeah, and if you get close enough or use binoculars, you’ll see they have reddish irises. Reddish eyes always look positively satanic to me. (Okay, I’ve seen too much TV, haven’t I.)

But maybe the “evil” angle isn’t far off—some have described the ECD as the “beige starling of the future”—it was introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s and has already spread as far as the Dakotas. Likening anything to a starling sounds incredibly grim.

Within the last century, the ECD has pushed its way all through Western Europe.

We’ve noticed that the two ECDs that frequent our bird feeders peck at and boss away the other birds, particularly the (native) mourning doves. Hmmm. That’s not fun to see.

Do you think in the next decade or so we’ll have big bossy flocks of ECDs swarming our bird feeders the way starlings do? Ugh. But then maybe the ECDs will push away some starlings—and that would be okay, I think . . .

Meanwhile, it is cool to think that, say, the Buddha might have had one of these little guys hooting away in a tree about the time that he attained enlightenment. Or that these doves might have provided the background music when the great Sanskrit classics were composed. Anywhere you go, the cooing of doves can add a note of calm, of peace. Do you think this is the kind of dove the writers of the Bible had in mind when telling the Noah story?

And another thought: At least a few people have posited that the ECD is poised to take advantage of the ecological niche that was formerly occupied by the native American passenger pigeon, exterminated by humans, which became extinct on September 1, 1914. There is something rather poetic about that. But are we ready for thundering, miles-long flocks of Eurasian collared-doves?

Something tells me it won’t come to that. In Missouri at least, ECDs are being treated just like mourning doves for hunting purposes, and I suspect their numbers won’t get out of hand, as long as people love to eat delicious, tender squab . . .

(A photography note—we’ve been trying to get close enough to get a decent picture of these little goobers, but so far no luck. Despite reports of the species’ gregariousness and comfort around humans, the two we have are rather wary of us. So these pictures of one of their feathers, left behind beneath our bird feeders, are the best I can offer for now. I don’t want to copy someone else’s picture without permission. I’m not that kind of girl. Of course, you can find lots of pictures of them on the Internet and in recent editions of North American field guides.)

No comments: