Wednesday, 24 February 2016

To love a dove

Streptopelia decaocto

The collared dove that perches outside the kitchen window waiting for me to feed it every morning has become my latest bird 'friend'.  We've been getting to know each other for a couple of years now and whilst I'm used to the tameness of several blackbirds and robins (and even, briefly, as told here, a bluetit), this is the first time a collared dove has shown such trust.

In Greek mythology, a poorly paid, mistreated servant girl prayed to the gods for help and was transformed by them into a collared dove so that she could fly away and escape her misery.  The dove's mournful-sounding cry,  - heard so often as it takes off and lands - is said to recall her former wretched life.  The bird's species name reflects this too: decaocto, meaning eighteen, supposedly comes from the number of coins the maid received each year for her hard work.
In keeping with the myth, they seem such nervous, skittish birds, taking flight at the slightest movement and rarely hanging about near humans, but this one's different.  It knows how to attract my attention and stays around once it has it, often just a few inches away.  Our connection is almost palpable.  It watches me with dark red eyes; I can sense it weighing things up - the way its natural caution is overridden, just enough, by its confidence in getting a prompt handful of food.   It has a mate - they pair for life - but I don't know which one is male and which female.  The mate is more shy, preferring to watch from a safe distance, only coming down to join its partner once I'm far enough away not to pose a threat.  Proof, I believe, that every creature, wild or not, has its own distinct identity; it must be character rather than just instinct alone which dictates some of the decisions it makes.

I even dreamed about my dove the other night!  I found it nestling in the large bin where I keep a sack of sunflower hearts.  I reached down and picked it up, held it in my arms and felt its soft, warm body - it didn't struggle or flap, just stayed snug in my embrace like a kitten.  It was such a vivid dream that the the next morning when it came to me in real life and those dark red eyes met mine, I felt as if we'd shared a secret tryst.


  1. This is lovely and so educational! The derivation of the name is fascinating. I'm interested to learn that collared doves are, by nature, nervous and skittish, as that isn't always the experience I've had with the couple of pairs that hang out in our neck of the woods, who generally watch us come and go quite calmly. On Monday, for example, I was in the garden grabbing an armful of logs and nearly jumped out of my skin when I realised that a dove was sitting on the fence looking straight at me, about 8 inches from my head! It's partner had already moved off, but this one stood it's ground quite confidently. Perhaps it recognised me and knew that it was in no danger.
    Also, I'm not sure if it's from the same pair, but one of the local doves has figured out how to balance (not particularly gracefully, it's true) on the hanging sunflower-heart feeder and help itself. This is a feat that sometimes appears beyond a few of the sparrows!

    1. Thanks, you won't be able to see one now without thinking of the myth! It sounds as if you have some very easygoing doves up your way, how lovely. It's funny how they behave differently though... all the ones here should be well used to me and my benign movements by now but they remain nervous in spite of it and in spite of their fellow visitor who is surely the best proof there is that there's nothing to be afraid of.
      Your balancing-on-the-feeder one sounds brilliant too. Again it's interesting how just some will try things out which others don't. Never to be underestimated!

  2. Loved reading this, C. A beautiful bond that must be such a deep pleasure.

    1. Thanks - yes you're right. Honestly, these avian friends make my heart swell with joy and love, and I don't care how dippy that sounds!


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