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Raising Jr. The Mourning Dove
I first met Jr. on Aug 1st while taking my daily morning stroll down my driveway to the mailbox. We were right in the middle of monsoon season, and the yard looked like hell from all the damage that last night’s storm had left in its path. Of all the ones that we had experienced lately, last night's storm had been the worst with winds up to sixty miles an hour.
After gathering up my mail, I stopped to watch my lab play among the wet grass in the puddles. Realizing that she was trying to pick something up with her mouth, I walked over to see what nasty and disgusting thing I would have to remove out of it this time. As I began to narrow the gap between us, she suddenly panicked and dropped what she had. I walked over to where she had been, only to find a dove nest which had fallen out of the tree. The nest was still dripping wet from last night's storm. I picked it up, turned it over, only to find that it was empty.
I started to look around, and as I did, my heart sank as I spotted the two baby birds at the base of the tree. I was getting ready to bend down and dispose of them when I noticed that one of them was moving, and had somehow survived the fall. I gently picked him up, checked his feet, and wings. Everything was in tack. It was unbelievable but there was not a single scratch on the little guy. Apart from being completely featherless he was fine.
I quickly gathered him up, placed him in the warmth of my shirt and headed for the house. I wrapped him in a hand towel, and placed him in a mixing bowl while I searched for the needed supplies. Having raised exotic parrots for a living for many years I still kept old cages, feeding syringes, and heating pads around the house. I ended up placing the little guy in an old shoe box, with a heating pad and a small stuffed animal to keep him company.
Once I got him settled I began making phone calls to try to get him some help. I received the same answer form everyone I called. They didn't take mourning doves. The doves were a dime a dozen, and if they took in all the hurt ones they would be inundated. They also claimed that the doves were too hard to hand raise if they were featherless. I was told to place him back outside, and the parents would feed him. I should not try to help him otherwise the parents won't touch him, and besides doves are illegal to own without a permit in the state.
I knew in my heart that if I placed him back outside he would surely die. I don't believe for one minute that any bird is hard to hand feed. The parents were long gone. I didn't want to own him; I just wanted to help him live. I decided that instead of wasting my time on the phone I would use the Internet for finding answers to my questions. I happened to come across a few websites that bred nothing but mourning doves, and gave instructions on how to hand feed and care for new-born babies.
From dealing with baby budgies, I could tell that this guy was only 3 or 4 days old, and hungry! I pulled out my coffee grinder, grabbed a hand full of dog kibble and ground it up into a fine powder. I searched for the smallest feeding syringe I owned, mixed the powder with warm water, and made him some homemade formula.
I knew the first 24 hours were going to be the most critical. When I woke up the following morning and noticed that not only was he still alive but had also gone to the bathroom, I knew that I was almost home free! The first few days were a fight to get him to eat anything but after the third day he started to accept the food more willingly. He was a week old when he started flapping his wings and squeaking for food. It was at this point that I knew he would be alright and decided to call him Jr.
Jr. drove into work with me every morning and back home with me every night. I was so thankful for having a job that allowed me that freedom. At two weeks, I placed him in a cage, and he started flying to me to be fed. I did some research and learned that most mourning doves leave the nest for short periods of time, and start to fledge at this age. Jr. seemed undeveloped and was having a bit of a hard time just trying to fly across the room. Even though I placed dove food and water for him in the cage, he stickily insisted on just eating the hand feeding formula.
It would take another two weeks before Jr. started eating a bit of seed and drinking water on his own. On September 3rd I decided that it was time to introduce him to the great outdoors. We could not have picked a better day for his first flight. The minute I set him free he took off like a rocket soaring above the trees. I had never before seen a morning dove so graceful and so happy. I said goodbye with tears in my eyes as I headed off to do my weekly grocery shopping. That evening while I was at the sink washing the dinner dishes, I look out the window to see none other than Jr. Sitting at the sill crying and begging for food!
I bought him in for the evening, fed him, and placed him in his cage for the night. This routine went on for another two weeks. Every morning I would feed him and send him off into the wild blue yonder and every evening he would come home to roost and watch TV from the safety of his cage. Although the scene of him meeting me every night at the front door when I arrived home from work was adorable, I had now begun to worry. It was the middle of September, and I desperately needed to get him to hook up with a flock for the winter. I was afraid that perhaps I had babied him too much, fed him way too long or something might be wrong with him. The very next day I decided to cut him off, and find out. I placed some water, and bird seed on the windowsill and ignored his pleads for food all weekend long even though it broke my heart.
When I arrived home Monday from work, I was never met at the door. I suppose that the will to be free will always triumph over that to be caged. Every morning I would look to the skies before leaving for work and then again, every evening when I got home but the skies were always empty.
Then one Saturday morning, just before October, as I was getting ready to do my weekly grocery shopping, I witnessed dozens of birds fill the sky, and head for my feeders. All, except for the one that landed on my shoulder and spent a few minutes saying goodbye to his adoptive mother before taking off with his flock for the winter.