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The Observer paper 12/26/14

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Dove Tales

Local residents may not realize that aliens are lurking in their backyards. These creatures have big red eyes, a dome-shaped head, can hover in flight and come equipped with sharp claws. Even their name, Streptopelia decaocto, sounds like something you’d see on the roster at Area 51. Their language resembles the cooing of an adolescent sasquatch.

But, before you dial the Men in Black, I must confess this tongue and cheek introduction is a bit misleading. The Eurasian collared dove is, indeed, alien to our neighborhoods, but seems to be a fairly benign addition to the bird feeding station. And, so far, no dove to human abductions have been recorded.

The birds colonize suitable habitats so readily that it’s a bit difficult to say where the birds originated — most experts suggest India. In 1970, 50 birds were released in the Bahamas and in less than 10 years their numbers swelled to over 10,000. Collared doves reached Miami in the mid-80s and have spread rapidly across the U.S. and into Canada.

Cast your gaze just about anywhere in the Boise to Ontario region and you’ll likely see these birds. The collared dove was officially recorded in Union County in the spring of 2007, according to Trent Bray, local birding expert. The back streets of Union, and May and Fruitdale Lanes in La Grande, are good places to see the birds. Look for them perching on power lines or working a bird feeder.

Some wildlife biologists worry this species may become an agricultural pest, but, so far, the birds seem to be content living in the suburbs. There’s also speculation this bird might have a negative effect on our native mourning dove, which, at first glance resembles the invader. However, the two species seem to co-exist nicely.

Mourning doves are a bit smaller than the collared dove and have a pointed tail. Their calls are a bit different as well. Both nest in typical dove fashion — two eggs sitting precariously on a rather flimsy nest of twigs. The young reach full size in less than one month and the females will often begin another nest while the males continue caring for the first brood. In the course of one summer a productive pair can raise several young. In warmer climes the collared dove will nest year around.

The collared dove doesn’t require much effort to keep happy. They relish such grains as cracked corn, millet and wheat. They don’t migrate to warmer climates like our native doves, so a full feeder during harsh winters will get them through tough times. They prefer to feed on the ground, but will accept a feeder.

It appears that the Eurasian collared dove is here to stay and seems to be quite welcome in most backyards. And, unlike another well known alien, they have no desire to “phone home.’’

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