Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Rare Dove Appears at Our Feeders
May 07, 2011
by Steve Grinley
If you passed by the store the past few days, you may have seen a crowd of people outside. No, they were not in line for a sale. They were looking for, or looking at, a rare bird at the store feeders.
As I was opening the store on Thursday morning, turning on the lights in each room, I glanced out the window of our “seed room” expecting to see the usual sparrows and mourning doves feeding on the ground under the feeders there. But I did a double take when I saw a lone dove that wasn’t a mourning dove. It was larger, and had a white trim along the edge of the wing. Its tail was brown and squared off, not long and pointed with white tips to the feathers as a mourning dove would have. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – a white-winged dove!
White-winged dove’s usual range is the southern United States. I have seen them in Texas, Arizona and Florida. A few have found their way to Massachusetts before including one dove that showed up at another bird supply store in Sturbridge a couple of years ago. This is the first one that I have seen in Massachusetts, and here it was at the store feeders!
Even before I finished opening the store, fellow birder Oakes Spalding from Cambridge walked into the store. Oakes had just gotten out of a rehab hospital after an operation and was using a cane to help get around. I grabbed him by the arm and led him to the back room and told him to look out the window. It was as if I needed him to verify what I was seeing in disbelief. With our binoculars, we could see the blue ring around the red eye of this handsome dove. Oakes was pleased to see the bird and we watched it for a while before it flew off.
Oakes and I returned to the front room and started to discuss the reason for his visit, a new pair of binoculars. As I was talking with him, I noticed a flash of blue over his shoulder, coming from the feeders out the window. I interrupted our conversation, as any good birder would, and pointed to a male indigo bunting at our thistle feeder. Its deep blue color set off the brilliant yellow and black of the adjoining goldfinches on the feeder. Such a treat!
After Oakes left to head to Plum Island, I put the word out about the white-winged dove on the Massbird local list serve. I was concerned that the bird had flown off and I wasn’t certain that it would return, so I didn’t expect birders to come rushing over. A birding couple arrived a couple of hours later, having read the post on their mobile phone. While I was waiting on customers, they sat in their car and spotted the white-winged dove under the feeders on the south side of the store near the property line.
They came in and told me, and I posted an update on Massbird that the bird was back. Soon, birders were arriving to see this rare bird. Most got excellent looks at the dove feeding or just sitting in a tree or shrub. Two vans of birders from Mass Audubon’s Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary arrived and spent almost an hour watching for the bird in the mid-afternoon but the bird decided to hide elsewhere for a while. There consolation prize was the continuing indigo bunting at the thistle feeders and two handsome white-crowned sparrows that spent much of the day scratching the ground under our feeders. Our brilliantly colored male Baltimore oriole, which competed with a pair of catbirds at our jelly feeder, was also certainly a crowd pleaser.
After the two vans of birders left, the dove was seen again late in the afternoon, perched high in a tree, by a few birders who persevered. As evening came, only a half dozen mourning doves were feeding on the extra seed that I put out for our alien visitor. Whether it will stay around for more people to see, I don’t know. But I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, take a second look at the birds at your feeders. Spring and fall migrations are prime time for an unusual visitor to appear!
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