Doves of the Desert
By Gail Cochrane
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Mourning Doves, Rock Doves, White-winged Doves, little speckled Inca Doves. These birds liberally populate our summertime desert and residential areas, and are easily identifiable by their small heads and plump bodies. Commonplace and a bit clumsy, doves are prone to fly into windows, sit placidly on roadways, and build ridiculously flimsy nests.
Yet when other birds are hiding from midday heat, doves wing arrow-straight routes over my neighborhood headed for water at the nearby golf course. Surprisingly agile in flight, doves often elude predatory Cooper’s and Red-tailed hawks. Breeding and nesting straight through the searing days of summer, doves are able to raise multiple broods of babies.
Where do they find the gumption? Understanding more about these birds sheds light on their success. Summer is breeding season for doves, so they have important reproductive work to do despite the heat. The desert provides an abundance of nutrition in the way of seeds, legume pods and cactus fruits during the hottest months, so doves are well equipped to produce crop milk for their young.
Doves’ relatively large body mass offers some protection from heat, and their feathers provide excellent insulation. Pinau Merlin in her book Bird Nests and Eggs, shares the story of ornithologist Steve Russell who measured the surface temperature on the back of a Mourning Dove sitting on a nest in midday in June. The thermometer read 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet, the bird’s internal temperature was just 104.
Doves sitting on babies or eggs in a summertime nest absorb heat from their unfeathered young and dissipate that heat by panting. They seek shade when possible, as even a thin covering of shade can lower ambient temperatures 15 degrees. I’ve seen doves on the ground with one wing raised like a sail against the sun.
Those laughably flimsy nests also protect eggs and young from the dangerous heat. The slightest movement of air passes easily through the loosely woven twigs, cooling the eggs and hatchings. Doves turn their eggs throughout the hottest days to keep them from cooking.
Unlike some native birds that obtain moisture from their food, seed-eating doves must drink water. They easily fly ten miles to reach water and rehydrate quickly by sucking the water directly into their mouths. (Many birds must raise their heads to let the water trickle down their throats.) Doves are also tolerant of brackish, salty water.
Because doves cluster at water sources, a water borne disease called trichomoniasis or canker is a scourge to them. Once the disease takes hold it spreads through the bird community as mothers feed their young and as raptors prey on the doves. If you offer water for birds, make sure to change it frequently, as this disease is very contagious and causes a slow death.
The last cool fact about doves that I’ll share with you? According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the oldest known Mourning Dove was 31 years and 4 months old.
Keeping Urban Birds Safe, Part 2
By Claudia Kirscher
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
There are many threats to the urban birds that share our communities. In Part 1 we discussed the reasons for not feeding bread to ducks and geese. Here are more actions you can take to lessen man-caused threats:
- It is illegal to feed wild animals (except birds and tree squirrels) in Arizona, in the counties of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima. A human food source is not healthy for them. They may become too comfortable close to or around people, setting the stage for conflicts and/or attacks.
- Bird water baths can harbor and spread disease. Change water daily. Once or twice a month add 1/2 cup bleach to the water, cover so birds don’t get in, and let soak 10-15 min. Scrub and then rinse thoroughly.
- Clean bird seed feeders periodically with a 10% bleach solution to prevent the spread of disease. Discard the damp or moldy seed.
- Consider planting habitats of native plants and flowers as an alternative.
- To prevent collisions, don’t place feeders close to windows.
- Place window strike deterrents on your windows. There are many types on the market.
- Do not use glue/sticky traps or fly strips outside where birds may encounter them.
- Stop using rat poisons. These kill not only the rat, but their predators such as hawks, owls, eagles, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and your dog and cat. Research alternatives.
- Never get too close to an occupied bird nest. Too close or too often can cause the parent bird to desert the nest, putting the young at risk of death.
- Dispose of trash responsibly.
- Decrease excessive outdoor lighting around tall buildings in the urban setting. These lights cause the bird to become disoriented and collide with buildings, especially during migration.
- Join an organization that educates building owners to decrease or eliminate lighting during high peak migration nights.
- Keep your cat indoors!
MAKE IT PERSONAL AND BE PART OF THE SOLUTION !!
By Carol Suits
Liberty Wildlife Volunteer
Kid Stuff has an exciting update to share with you. The Superhero Club members have been very busy this Spring helping nature. They’ve participated in “Vulture Culture” activities to reduce, reuse, and recycle materials and they picked up litter along the Rio Salado and made basket nests for baby birds.
Check out last month’s Kid Stuff/Nature News on our website for a list of ideas on how you, too, can help.
Our next adventure starts with this edition of Kid Stuff by introducing Inspector Liberty who will help superheroes hunt for wasted water everywhere. They will look at home, in the yard, in the park, at school, at camp, on vacation and EVERYWHERE they may go because they know that water is important for every living thing! *
This link will show you a fun water detective activity, a video showing a class experimenting with saving or wasting water, a way for you to do your part to save water, and a science notebook to print.
It’s your turn to be a detective and find ways to save water!
- Make a list of ways water could be saved in your yard and house.
- Hunt for leaks around your house and yard. Is it a little leak that’s hard to see? Can you put a bucket or cup under the leak to see how much water is being wasted? Measure the amount and tell how much time it took to make that amount of wasted water. Use the chart to help you.
Water Detector Activity
Ask an adult to help you to find out and write down how much water your house uses each month. You may have to record several months to find an average usage per month.
- Do you notice a difference in the amount of water used each month? Why?
- Are some months hotter or colder?
- Were people in your house away some of the time?
- Did you have more people in your house for a holiday or event?
- Did you add a new plant outside?
- What other things would change your water use?
Next, what steps can you and your family take to save some water?
- Record your water saver plan
- Guess how much water you may save
- Check the next water bill to see what happened!
- Did you save water? How much compared with the average amount?
- If you didn’t save water can you figure out how to save next time?
- Add your water story and what happened to your journal and share it with others.
Water Saver Ideas and Activities
- Water your yard and outdoor plants early or late
- Use a shut-off nozzle on your hose
- Use plants that need less water
- Turn off the water while brushing your teeth
- Turn off the sink faucet while cleaning dishes
- Take a shorter shower. Time yourself to 5 minutes or less.
- Clean outside walkways with a broom instead of a hose.
- Talk to your adults about these ideas:
- Faucet aerators on sink faucets
- Low flow showerheads
- Energy Star washing machine
- Low flow toilets or something in the tank to lower the water amount to refill the tank
- Make a poster showing the ideas you used to save water
- Read a book about the importance of water to living things.
- Draw a picture in your journal showing which water saver idea you liked doing the most.
- Draw or write about a water waster you discovered and fixed!
This link is especially for the Superhero club adults. It’s a valuable tool to guide kids to an understanding of the value of water. So very well done!
*For further information about the Superhero Club, please email Carol Suits, firstname.lastname@example.org .