Something old, something new

Posted: December 24th, 2008 under Wildlife.
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We have white-winged doves on our place…with the change in climate over the past 20 years, they’ve started wintering here as well (they used to migrate south in winter.)   White-wings are large “dove-colored” doves–the largest native dove in the area–and except for the white flash in the wing (showing as a white stripe even on the folded wing) they’ve always struck me as being rather plain, dull birds.  They come in flocks; they’re bullies at a feeding station; they all look alike (no gender difference) and they don’t have particularly interesting songs or anything.

Silly me.   Nothing in nature is really dull and plain, once we really look at it.   This year the observation of white-wings has shown me something both new and colorful.

So far, I don’t have any photographs of it.  That’s because the birds, the weather, the  light, and my schedule haven’t cooperated, but I hope to get some pictures eventually.

White-wings had a black mark on the side of the neck or lower cheek–a sort of dash.    I was looking at white-wings outside the window the other day with binoculars–they were just far enough from the window for the binoculars to focus, which meant I had a very close-up view.   One of the birds moved just enough–and I saw a flash of color.

Below and behind the black mark, there’s a patch of feathers whose iridescence can look sulfur yellow, yellow-green, or turquoise for an instant.  The yellow color showed most often; the green and turquoise were seen while the bird turned its neck.

I looked at the other doves in that group (five or six of them were clustered together.   All showed a little yellow color in that area when examined with binoculars, but only the one had strong color showing.

Like most birds, white-wings aren’t exactly the same color everywhere–they’re a bluer gray-taupe on top than the bottom, a “warmer” taupe below.  The dove with the most color in its “patch” had a more definite purplish case to the top of the head and back of the neck.

I have no idea what that patch of iridescence is “for”, or what the difference in intensity “means”…but it’s an interesting observation and has given me renewed interest in white-wings.  I was beginning to think of them primarily as a nuisance, for their bullying of the smaller migratory birds I wanted to support with supplemental feeding.  Now…I hope they stay in the yard long enough to habituate to me and my camera, so I can get pictures.  (Though pictures of such moderate iridescence aren’t easy to get.)

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