Have you noticed a strange looking dove at your feeder or sitting on a power line? If so, you’ve seen the latest bird species to establish itself on Whidbey Island, the Eurasian Collared-dove.
At first glance, the bird resembles a Mourning Dove, but the Eurasian Collared-dove appears stockier, is overall pale grayish with an obvious black collar at the nape of the neck. The tail is longish, but fanned, not tapered like the Mourning Dove.
Native to South Asia, Eurasian Collared-doves quickly spread from the Middle East across Europe in the early 20th Century. In 1974 several Eurasian Collared-doves were released from captivity in the Bahamas and flourished. Their offspring established a foothold in Florida and the species rapidly spread north and west into the rest of the United States.
The first sighting in Washington was in Spokane County in 1999. Four years later the bird was sighted in Stanwood. Whidbey’s north end Christmas Bird Count first tallied the birds in 2010 when 12 were seen. The following year, the count nearly quadrupled to 44 birds.
The Eurasian Collared-dove prefers towns, suburban neighborhoods and, where established, can become pesky, crowding into seed feeders. They utter a soft “coo-COO-cuh” sound.
The arrival of this species brings our Whidbey dove and pigeon tally to four species, two native and two introduced. Pigeons and doves are all part of the same family of birds, with chunky bodies, short bills and legs, small heads and small brains. Doves have long been a symbol of peace and safety and the sight of two birds snuggled together on a branch can warm our hearts.
The second introduced dove species is the multicolored Rock Pigeon, or common city pigeon, which was brought here by the colonists in the early 17th Century as a domestic bird. The species is now feral and firmly established all across the continent wherever humans congregate. Members of this species have been bred for human consumption (squab) communication (homing pigeon) and amusement (tumblers). Their call is a familiar, soft, low “coo-caroo-coo.”
The Mourning Dove is a native species, recognized by its tannish body with long tapered tail. The bird is named for its mournful call, which might resemble a sad sounding “coo-ahh-coocoocoo.” Ubiquitous throughout its range, this bird ranked 11th out of 251 bird species for relative abundance across the United States.
This species has inhabited North Whidbey for many years, but only within the last eight years has it been commonly seen as far south as where I live outside Langley.
Mourning Doves may be the inspiration for the term “bird brain.” They build loose wisps of straw nests in the tops of trees or on slanted windowsills without a thought for architecture. Not surprisingly, when the wind blows the eggs may drop through or roll off. These birds will look and twist their heads so far that they lose their balance on a branch. It’s easy to walk up to these doves without their awareness and when startled they explode into flight with a whistle or clapping of their wings.
The final pigeon/dove species here on Whidbey is a native woodland species, populating limited areas of the far Western and Southwestern United States and is my favorite. The Band-tailed Pigeon is a large, stunning grayish blue bird with yellow bill and legs, white nape collar and green iridescent feathers on the hind neck, which sparkle in direct sunlight. The species derives its name from a pale grayish band on the tail.
This flocking bird inhabits forests, prefers tall conifers and moves with agility through trees. They visit seed feeders, which they overwhelm with both size and numbers. A hollow sounding “whoo-whoo-whooooo” will alert you to this bird’s location.
Unfortunately, with the destruction of forests and continued hunting, the Band-tailed Pigeon is decreasing in numbers and is considered a species at risk in some areas.
Pigeons and doves: common, gently colored, softly cooing, ground loving and peaceful. Yet an inadvertent release in the Bahamas nearly 30 years ago may change that description to include “pesky seed feeder.”
I’m reminded of John Muir’s words, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
Frances Wood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book on bird watching is titled, “Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West.”