We have a mother dove who built a stick nest in one of our small orange trees near the back patio. Doves are not the brightest fliers in the forest, and this one was no exception. The nest was only about five feet above the ground and easily seen from our patio, where we could watch her as she sat on the sticks, sort of blinking milky eyes at us, pretending she was invisible. Finally, two babies appeared, tiny fuzzy things that sat quietly whenever she would leave on a grocery run. Once when I was out there and came too close to her and her babies, she took off and gave me that injured bird bit, where she fluttered across the ground looking for all the world like really easy prey. And that led me to consider where and how that behavior got started. I know all about instinct and how it is knowledge passed on genetically, instinctively. But there would also have to be some kind of avian reasoning going on at one time or another. Sometime in the past, a dove must have seen another dove, actually injured, and doing an excellent although unwitting job of luring a predator away from her young. And the light went on over her head. “Ah ha! What a good idea. I could fake it and accomplish the same thing.” I say “her head” because daddy dove is never part of the parenting process, just a quick bang in the bushes and then off on his irresponsible male way. Back to the injury ploy, thus was born the acting job that became instinctive in the breed. But it first had to involve some reasoning. A little bird brain that could put one and one together. Granted, she wasn’t yet up to putting 1309 and 1246 together. But that could come generations and generations and a million years later. Just as it must have with humans.
A month or so later we were out on the patio with our coffee and I noticed mother dove was up and sort of giving the two little (now rather large) children a tidying up. I thought maybe this would be the day they’d take off and I wanted to see it. We went in the house for just a moment, and when I returned they were already gone. I missed it. I wanted to see how Mom acted when she shoved the babies out of her stick nest. Would she stay with them, sort of watch over them for a while? Would they be able to fly right off the bat? I know baby quail can fly immediately out of the egg but I wasn’t sure about doves. Did she give them dovey pecks on the cheeks and say goodbye? Some birds have babies that are recognizably babies trailing along after the parent—quail, robins, blackbirds, to name only a few. But some seem to be as big as adults when they leave home. Have you ever seen a baby sparrow? I think not. And the doves seem to be the same. I’ve never seen a dove that looked like a baby or adolescent having to be fed by a mother or father. One of life’s mysteries.