What to watch for in June: Austin’s Doves and Pigeons
Here’s the Central Texas bird forecast for the month, courtesy of Travis Audubon. Learn more about Central Texas birds and bird-related events for all ages at travisaudubon.org or by calling 512-300-BIRD. Follow us at www.facebook.com/travisaudubon.
Austin is home to several year-round doves and they seem to thrive in the heat. Take some time during June to get to know them better. Our doves are all members of the Columbidae family, with characteristic small heads in relation to their body size. They are fast and strong fliers, and typically forage on the ground. Doves all feed their young regurgitated “crop milk” which resembles yellow cottage cheese. They range in size from the large, rather heavy set introduced Rock Pigeon and Eurasian Collared-Dove to the petite Inca Dove and Common Ground-Dove.
So, what is it – a pigeon or a dove? Rock Pigeon is the current name for that species, but in the past it was called the Rock Dove. The term pigeon is usually used for larger species and dove is appropriate for the smaller species. Rock Pigeons, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and the White-winged and Mourning Doves are all about the same length, but the Rock Pigeon is the heaviest of the four. Two other pigeon species that occur in Texas weigh even more than the 9 ounce Rock Pigeon, but you will have to travel to the Valley or west Texas to see them.
The ubiquitous multi-colored Rock Pigeon is a flyover bird in much of Austin, en route to agricultural areas where it finds seeds, grains and fruit. It is also adapted to urban life, feeding on a variety of discarded human food. Along with the White-winged Dove, Rock Pigeons can decimate backyard seed feeders in record time, giving both birds the unwelcome designation of “winged rats.” If you haven’t learned to love pigeons yet, maybe an attitude adjustment is in order. Keep in mind that Rock Pigeons served in World Wars I and II as carrier pigeons. For example, Cher Ami is famous for saving the lives of 194 soldiers trapped behind enemy lines in World War I. Her remains reside in the Smithsonian. People still race pigeons today as a hobby, and they are studied for their remarkable homing abilities. His study of Rock Pigeons helped Charles Darwin develop some aspects of his theory of evolution. Pigeons and doves are low on the food chain, providing predators like Red-tailed Hawks an easy meal. And people the world over enjoy the pastime of feeding pigeons in city squares.
You may have noticed the large, pale Eurasian Collared-Dove which pop up all over Austin if you are paying attention. It is not as plentiful as White-winged Doves or Rock Pigeons – yet. This bird was introduced into Florida in the 1980s. Now it is spreading widely in the U.S. Look for it perched on a wire, giving its three note call, “coo-COO-cook” or “who Hooo who.” It has a distinctive band around the back of its neck.
White-winged Doves are known for their soothing “who cooks for you” call that envelops listeners throughout the summer months. This well-named bird has a notable white wing-patch that shows along the edge of its folded wing, and it is also visible in flight.
Mourning Doves are more slender than White-winged Doves, and have pointed tails instead of the squared off tails of the White-wings. They have a sad “oo ah oo oo oo” call that suits their name. Unfortunately the number of Mourning Doves is declining in the city, but they can still be found in rural areas. The Mourning Doves has a wing whistle on takeoff that is noticeable. It’s thought the function of it is to warn other birds of possible predators.
Two lovely small doves are the Inca Dove and the Common Ground Dove. The long-tailed Inca Dove can be found in small numbers in town, where its repetitive cooing call of “no hope” stands out. This scaly-looking dove likes to be in close contact with its kind. Sometimes they even perch on top of each other, a phenomenon called pyramidal roosting.
The uncommon Common Ground Dove is occasionally seen around town in Travis County. It is squattier than the Inca Dove and has a short tail. Like the Inca it has rufous underwings visible in flight. It is often heard rather than seen. Its “whooo-up” call can often be heard at Pace Bend and Reimer’s Ranch parks where its preferred dry, brushy habitat is found.
Doves’ cooing sounds give texture to our soundscape, and since they are easy to see, they are good subjects for beginning bird watchers. Their behaviors, such as males trying to attract females by puffing up their throat feathers, are fun to observe, too. Get outside and see how many species you can identify by sound and sight.
Travis Audubon Events — With the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Travis Audubon in person activities are cancelled or postponed indefinitely. However a lunchtime speaker’s series and several virtual classes will be offered in June. Registration is required.
On Thursdays June 4, 11, 18 and 25 from noon to 1 p.m., you can learn more about Birdability, an inspirational journey to get outside even when movement is difficult, Central Texas shorebirds, Golden-cheeked Warbler conservation and creating bird friendly habitat.
Compiled by Jane Tillman, Travis Audubon Volunteer