Wednesday, December 11, 2019

all the world's a stage

Nature has staged a Christmas pantomime in my patio that is right out of the headlines.

Or so some say.

At least once a month, the newspaper contains a report of another study predicting the extinction of this or that group of animals.

If there is any truth in the model, I know some creatures that are destined for evolutionary success. Cockroaches are a given. But I will nominate another. The Eurasian collared dove.

I have several bird field guides. Some center on birds in The States. Others on Mexico. The Eurasian collared dove is a stranger to their pages.

My 1977 The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds and my 1990 Peterson Western Birds make a fleeting reference to a similarly-named escapee-bird restricted to the Los Angeles area. And my 1973 Peterson Mexican Birds and my 1998 The Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas do not mention the Eurasian collared dove at all.

That seems odd when looking at the current distribution of the bird. Its native home is Asia and northern Africa -- the green portion of the map. The red portion shows its current distribution by introduction.

And therein lies an ecological tale.

There is a good reason for the field guides missing a bird that is disbursed that widely. Until 1974, the only North American representatives of these doves lived behind bars in zoos. That changed when fewer than 50 of them escaped from captivity in the Bahamas -- that former British colony where the abdicated Edward VIII once reigned in ignominy.

Rather than dying out as strangers in a strange land, they replicated like Australian rabbits. That helps to explain why their conservation status is listed as "least concern."

These doves are survivors. They are not as bold as other birds, but compared to doves, they are Aztecs. Their instinctive aggressiveness drives out other birds.

This summer a mourning dove couple nested in one of my Queen Anne palms. I have known mourning doves since my boyhood in Oregon. They are the epitome of the shy dove. The couple would fly to the edge of my pool to drink, but the slightest movement -- even the wind -- would send them into a flurried panic back to the safety of the upper terrace. Being a vegetarian at the bottom of a carnivorous food chain tends to engender timidity.

Not so, my new doves. The collared doves will drink even if I am in the pool.

Late last week, I first saw the new neighbors. A pair of collared doves were inspecting the old mourning dove nest. They must have found it wanting because they methodically tore it apart -- bit by bit. And then constructed their own nursery.

I suspect that is one method the Eurasian collared dove has used to drive native doves out of their area. The mourning doves that were here last summer were the last I have seen here. But breeding collared dove pairs are everywhere.

Something tells me that these birds are going to be survivors -- no matter what the headlines say. 

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