Outside my kitchen window, in the large juniper tree we inherited when we moved into our home almost 27 years ago, I have watched numerous Mourning Doves nests. Flimsy and definitely not much to admire in their construction, I’ve always been stunned when that mish-mash of twigs, built without a distinctive or considered form, withstands the weight of nesting birds, protects the delicate eggs and, with luck, accommodates the growth cycle.
It’s the beginning of July and already the juniper has housed two successful nests, the most recent of which has been especially delightful. Built high in the tree and hidden deep within a tangle of prickly, dense, drooping branches, watching the nest was a challenge but once I found a good vantage point from the kitchen windows, observing, and photographing, that nest became a natural part of my day.
Previous nests built low in the crook of the tree allowed me to casually glance into the nest while walking by but this premium view made nests especially vulnerable to predators. Each destroyed nest and/or evidence of missing eggs was heartbreaking. Yes, I know – Mourning Doves are not rare and they’re prolific breeders – but just as I don’t shun the most common blossom in the garden, I value each nest. I will be just as thrilled with the first hummingbird sighting, as I will be the next. And when the swallowtail parade begins later this month and my Buddleia is decorated with brilliant yellow and blue wings, I’ll franticly search for my camera in hopes of a “good” picture.
When the doves hatched sometime in late June I watched the adults fly to the nest to feed and protect their hatchlings. Only when I could see their furry little heads above the rim of the nest did I attempt a photo and clarity was difficult given the angle and very narrow window of opportunity (so to speak).
When we experienced several strong storms, I thought about the nest. Would the juniper branch hold a flimsy, wet nest heavy with occupants? Was there an adult in the nest protecting the hatchlings? After the storms, when there was enough light, I would automatically go to the kitchen window to look for evidence of life and every day was surprised, and delighted, to see all was well.
Some mornings, just before sunrise when I was barely awake, my husband quietly got out of bed for an early work out and instead of mumbling “good morning” to him, I asked, “Are my birds ok?” Kind, supportive, interested or just resigned to my determination to find out about their well being, I don’t know but he was smart enough to know where and how to look for them and report back to me before leaving the house. Reassured, I usually fell back asleep.
Last week we had an exceptionally strong, summer D.C. thunderstorm. The torrential rain came down sideways and high winds caused us to lose power for close to 10 hours. It was hot, annoying, disruptive and destructive – and yet, when I looked out the kitchen window I saw the hatchling, now a fledgling, calmly sitting on a rock below the juniper tree by the dry stream bed. My son (using my daughter’s good camera instead of my point and shoot) went outside to take pictures of this goofy little bird perched on a rock, soaking wet and visible because there was so much lightning. When I posted some pictures of the bird on its rock, the comments were almost universal . . . “it looks like a decoy.”
The next day, when I looked for it on the rock, I was and wasn’t surprised by its absence. After all, it was obviously strong and ready to begin its independence – I was disappointed and of course, a little worried something bad happened but all the same, that seemed like one tenacious little survivor. As I turned away from one kitchen window to look at the herb garden, I was absolutely delighted to see the dove in its new residence . . . It sat in those herbs for days and clearly was comfortable nestled into the oregano, chives and Thai basil. My family knew better than to make potentially funny threats about the dove’s future. They knew I would find it distasteful.
As it became clear the doves would soon leave the nest, I tried my luck at a few more pictures, hoping to capture in picture what connected me so strongly to this particular nest.
A bird just about to take flight is as ordinary a sight as it comes but for me, and maybe because it’s just outside my kitchen window, it was extraordinary.