Susitna Writer’s Voice–“A Most Remarkable Bird”, by Robin Song

This story begins with a phone call from a friend in June of 2012. She had just rescued several birds and wanted to know if I would like to give a home to a young albino Ring-neck Dove. I grew up in a family that loved all kinds of animals and birds, so I had experience with Budgies, Canaries, Finches, Button Quail, my Mother’s Blue-fronted Amazon Parrot, but no Doves. I thought this would be a wonderful experience. Little did I know the “ride” I was about to embark upon!

The beautiful snow-white Dove with red eyes, pink legs and feet arrived and I set up his cage next to my pair of Budgies. He was just a few months old and didn’t have a name, so I decided to call him “Piper”, for the lovely high-pitched cooing calls he made. Every morning at nine o’clock, Piper would coo for a few minutes. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

After awhile I realized that I had a lonesome Dove on my hands. His cooing grew more frequent and insistent. Finally, I contacted Amber, who runs the Pet Bird Club of Alaska. As it turned out, a Ring-neck Dove had been found “wandering the streets” of Anchorage, had been in three foster homes, and was in need of a permanent home. And so, a little over two months later, “Sweetpea” joined my family. No one knew if this Dove was male or female, so I kept the two apart for the first two days, as Doves can fight rather intensely, if they decided not to get along. They seemed to be non-aggressive towards each other, so I cautiously let them get together. They came together and started grooming each other, then cooed to each other. I breathed a sigh of relief.

The cage they were in, while large, was not large enough, in my opinion, so I enlisted the help of my friend CW to build them a proper aviary. He enjoys designing and building and in short-order he had built a big octagon bamboo aviary for my Doves. We spent an afternoon tying in perches, a large nest box, and food and water dishes. The door is also a landing platform, and the top is also a feeding station. I added a lamp on the outside and a curtain around three-quarters of the aviary to block out the summer light so they could sleep. The floor of the aviary has a layer of fine sand and a dish of Dove grit. I hung faux flowers inside and out, for ambiance. The Doves moved in, exploring their new home. They seemed to approve.

Thus began a three and ½ year relationship between Piper and Sweetpea. I still didn’t know who was what until one day, a few days after they had been together, I found an egg on the bottom of their cage. I had done some research on Doves and had gotten a dish to serve as a nest, just in case. I now installed the dish and added nesting material. But, to my surprise, both Doves wanted to sit in the dish together. This wasn’t mentioned in the research. It had stated that the Doves would take turns sitting on the eggs. My Doves hadn’t read the literature. So I got a Tupperware container that was large enough to accommodate the pair comfortably. I put shavings on the bottom then a layer of cotton, then I put out various nesting material to let them add what they wanted. To my surprise, Piper went to the string of faux flowers I had laying on top of my kitchen cupboards. He pulled at some of the smaller flowers. I climbed up and snipped the flowers free. One by one, Piper found the single flowers and picked them up, getting them just right in his beak, then flew to the landing board, hopped to the perch by the nest, then presented the flower to Sweetpea, who took it and tucked it next to her.

Sweetpea would lay two eggs, and the pair would take turns sitting on the eggs for about a month. I candled the eggs after a few days; always they were not viable. I concluded that someone was sterile. I suspected Piper, because he’s an albino. When the eggs didn’t hatch at the end of the month, the Doves would abandon them. I would remove them from the nest. Then would begin about a week of courting. The pair would go through a display of feeding each other, grooming each other, wing- vibrating, and cooing, culminating with the Doves taking turns climbing on top of each other. Then they would preen themselves simultaneously for a few minutes. Then the display would begin again. They were free to come and go 24/7, and so explored the cabin together during the week they were courting. Because they are ground-feeding birds in Nature, I had to watch where I was walking, for often they would be walking on the floor of the cabin together. The dogs, being Herding Shepherds, largely ignored them, even when the Doves would climb onto their backs while they laid dozing on the floor.

Then an egg would appear in the nest, a day or two later another, and the sitting would begin again. In summer I put mesh around the May Day tree near the cabin and put the Doves out for some fresh air and sunshine during the week they were courting. They seemed to enjoy being outdoors on the warm summer days. On one of those summer days, while Piper was sitting on the nest, I decided to put Sweetpea outside to enjoy the sunshine. When I went to bring her back in, I found she was not up on the tree branch, but down in the grass. Sadly, she had passed away. No one knew how old she was. She had not been sick, and I suspected possibly she had died of old age.

Piper began calling a day later. And calling. Since he was still quite young, I thought he should have another mate. I put signs around Talkeetna, and to my surprise, got a call from a woman who had moved here from Texas and happened to have a pair of Ring-necked Doves and their offspring and needed a home for this young bird. She was pretty sure it was a female.

I put a partition in the aviary and brought the Dove home. I named her “Tawny” for her beige plumage. She and Piper paced together along the partition, sizing each other up. The next day I removed the partition and watched carefully. Tawny pecked Piper a couple of times, but not with super aggression. Piper was his usual passive self and cooed to his new mate. She was definitely an alpha. Piper accepted that and seduced her with his gentle nature. They settled in together.

As with Sweetpea, in a few days, an egg appeared in the nest. Things were progressing nicely. Piper brought his new mate flowers. Tawny decided to add to the nest as well, and raided my jar of paper clips and plastic toothpicks. I found poor Piper sitting on a nest bristling with these items, I carefully extracted them and hid my jar from Tawny. From then on, whenever they abandoned their unhatched eggs, Tawny would fly to my head and tug at my hair. That was my cue to get some nesting material for her. I kept string handy and would cut lengths for her, which she would fly with to the nest and give to Piper to arrange. In summer I would cut lengths of grass, which she would add, one piece at a time.

There were many adventures with Tawny during the three years she graced our lives, including the day she flew out the door and was gone for 23 hours, returning in a graceful flight around the cabin, much to my relief, landing in a spruce by the fuel tank, while Piper called to her. But it would take much longer to tell her story than I have time for, here. Perhaps I will tell about her life another time.

Last September Tawny started limping. I could find no broken bones, no swelling, no reason for the limp. I took her to the Bird Vet at All Creatures Vet in Wasilla. An x-ray revealed an inoperable tumor growing in her abdomen, pressing on the nerve in her thigh to where she had lost the feeling in her leg. I brought her home and made her as comfortable as possible until she passed away in my loving hands ten days later. Piper grieved for her deeply. He is due to turn six years old in the Spring of 2018. Someone had told me they thought Doves lived to be seven years old, or so. It had not stated in the literature I had read. I thought maybe Piper would do alright as a single bird the last year or so of his life. I even let him in to my Budgie’s aviary, hoping they might bond as friends. “Strelley” had lost his mate last year and had adjusted well to being a single bird.

They seemed to be hitting it off, at first, taking an interest in each other and eating the millet sprig side by side. But after awhile the interest waned and Piper would leave the aviary after a few minutes and Strelley ignored Piper.

Piper began cooing again. The cooing got more insistent. It broke my heart. I just couldn’t justify having a sad, lonely Dove. I contacted Amber. Turns out a pair of Ring-necked Doves and their single offspring had been turned in by a young woman in Anchorage who had discovered she had developed an intense allergy to them. I said I would take the offspring on a trial basis, as it was thought to be a male. I didn’t know if this male and Piper would fight. Doves, for their reputation of being gentle birds, can fight viciously.

CW took a long lunch hour and drove to Anchorage to pick up the bird while I loaded up the dogs and drove to Wasilla to meet him when he returned to his work place. This Dove was named “Charlie” and was identical to Sweetpea and Tawny. Charlie was four years old, and had been in a cage all its life and had been separated from its parents early-on.

That night I put Charlie in the aviary, closed the door, and held Piper up close so the birds could meet. They cooed to each other. There didn’t seem to be any aggressiveness. After about an hour, I cautiously opened the door and let Piper go inside. Charlie was displaying intensely. Piper went into passive courtship behavior. Within twenty minutes they were courting and grooming each other.

I kept them apart that night, just in case. The next morning I let them back together. The courting resumed. Two days later an egg appeared in the nest. We were off and running. Was “Charlie” a female? I researched the words for “Peace” so I could choose a name for the new Dove that was gender-neutral, just in case. I found the Swedish-Norwegian word for Peace is “Rafi”, so this is now the Dove’s name.

Two days later I was standing at the aviary, Piper on the nest, Rafi off on top of the kitchen cupboards. Suddenly, as I watched, Piper layed an egg! I was stunned. All these years this bird had suppressed her desire to lay eggs, letting her mates lay their eggs, taking turns sitting on them. Both mates had responded to Piper as a male during their courtship. Piper had brought them flowers for the nest, groomed and fed them. In every way Piper had taken on the role of the male. And when each mate died, Piper had grieved for them.

And now-at last-I had brought Piper a male. Piper has blossomed. I candled her first egg; it was viable. But I do not have room for another large cage in my small cabin, and I cannot let an offspring be with its parents. I would like to let Piper and Rafi raise a chick, so that Piper can finally have the experience of being a parent. Turns out that Doves live around fourteen years, so these two are still young birds.

So I’m now in search of someone in the community who would be willing to raise a Dove. It will need either a fine, large aviary, or have free range of the cabin, as mine do. These are large birds who need to fly. Anyone interested in adding a graceful bird with a lovely voice to their life, please call me at: 354-7267, or contact me on Facebook. On behalf of one remarkable Dove, I thank you.

Susitna Writer’s Voice, KTNA

Natural Observations, Robin Song

One Remarkable Bird”


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