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They are known as the meekest birds yet they are boldly present all over Camp Salmen, grazing by the dozens on field and trail, fretfully bounding for the trees at the least provocation. Startling hikers by suddenly flushing from the brush. It’s the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura), one of the most widespread and numerous bird species in North America. In spite of their reputation of timidity, I suspect they are secret exhibitionists.

You can identify them from their buff, grey-brown color, the black spots on their sides, red legs and the beautiful v-shaped white trim visible on their tails when they fly. When they fly, they emit what I can only describe as a wheezy, squeaky chortle. This whistling sound is actually made by the action of their feathers. When the mood is just right in the evening they also make a moaning “coo” that gives them the “mourning” part of their name.

Their little bald-looking, round head with black, beady round eyes and pointy little black beak give them a non-serious, almost twerp-like look; they are definitely not “Angry Bird” material. To further their non-threatening demeanor, they feed exclusively on seeds and rocks. Yes, rocks. The bird isn’t stupid. They can be seen perusing small pebbles looking for just the right size to swallow and hold in their “craw” or “crop.” This is sort of a pre-stomach muscle, a wide spot in their throat where these rocks help grind the seeds before they move on down the line.

Another thing they do with this crop is perfectly gross. They produce something generously called “crop milk” which they feed to their nesting young by coughing it down their throats. This makes me feel lucky I wasn’t born a bird.

Another reason I’m happy to not be a dove is that generations of people have been making sport of them by taking them home for dinner. The massive harvesting of this natural resource can only be accomplished with their full cooperation. They breed often and in great numbers. We seem to be doing our part very well at Camp Salmen because they are now everywhere.

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