Of the 3,000-4,000 birds we treat every year, a good many of them are doves. One species in particular is arguably the most common patient we treat, as well as being one of the most prolific birds in North America. It is also the most hunted. If all doves represent the world’s hopes for 2014, this particular one embodies everything Liberty has done this past year and plans to do in the future.
Our symbolic dove is the mourning dove.
Mourning doves are found all over North America, and thus they are a species that practically everyone has seen. A greyish bird with black spots on its wings, they’re called mourning doves because they sound rather sad. Their telltale cooing noise is reminiscent of soft crying, hence the name. Despite their somber moniker, however, they are beautiful, graceful birds, incredibly swift and extremely successful. According to Cornell University, their population hovers around 350 million birds throughout North America.1 While that number reveals both their success and the hardiness of the species, being so numerous also has its disadvantages. They are one of, if not the most hunted animal in North America, with an average of 20 million being taken as game each year.2 Such losses give a sad irony to their mournful calls, but they are nonetheless one of the great success stories of the animal kingdom.
The reason Liberty Wildlife volunteers have such a bond with mourning doves is that they are a constant presence at our facility. Being so numerous means that we are always seeing them as patients, and for good reason: the world is not a gentle one, and living in urban sprawl has brought an untold number of dangers to the fore. Mourning doves provide a perfect sampling of the injuries we typically deal with: they fly into windows, get ravaged by predators, grabbed by dogs, mauled by cats, shot with pellet guns, hit by cars, fall out of nests, fall prey to disease, and sometimes get poisoned. Liberty’s three main rehabilitation segments, Medical Services, Daily Care, and Orphan Care, spend more time with mourning doves than perhaps any other species. The most urgent work falls to our Medical Services crew, who perform both triage and long-term medical care: wounds caused by other animals are cleaned out and sutured; broken bones are set; illnesses are diagnosed and internal injuries treated; medicines are prescribed and applied; and in some cases, pellets are removed and poisons tackled head-on. Our Daily Care volunteers see to these birds’ necessities: they clean their enclosures, provide them with food and water, and otherwise pave the way for a hopefully smooth recuperation. The road to release can wind on for months, and Daily Care is there every day to see that the birds have everything they need.
Lastly, our Orphan Care teams may have a closer relationship with mourning doves than any of us. Because mourning doves are so numerous, and because Arizona gets such severe storms during the summer months, we are annually inundated with a flood of baby doves that have fallen from their nests. After Medical Services gives them whatever treatment they need, it falls to the nearly round-the-clock Orphan Care shifts to provide constant care to these many baby birds, feeding, cleaning, and watching for any signs of medical complications. We provide for other orphaned species as well, but there have been thousands upon thousands upon thousands of baby mourning doves throughout the years who have looked up at our volunteers, opening their mouths to their “mothers” for food. And thanks to our volunteers, all of them, thousands of these surrogate children have gone on to be successfully released back into the wild with a second chance to live a long and fruitful life.
If there’s one common bird that all of us have cared for, it’s the mourning dove. If there’s one single species that people all over this country have seen, it’s the mourning dove. If there was ever a bird that would want to say “thank you” to our volunteers, it’s the mourning dove. And if there was ever a bird that summed up everything we’ve done this year, and why we continue to do it every year, it’s the mourning dove.