(cont…) According to National Geographic, 45 million mourning doves are killed every year by hunters, due to their status as a widespread and very popular game bird. Beyond that, they are eaten by practically any animal that has the wherewithal to catch them, whether it be a nest-raiding raccoon or an adept Cooper’s hawk with the agility to challenge swift-flying adult doves. They also face the same issues that plague all species, like habitat loss, lead poisoning, and man-made chemicals like pesticides introduced into the food chain. Still, for all the depredations they suffer, their numbers have yet to budge from levels of abundance. Given that there is nary a time of year when Liberty isn’t host to several mourning doves, they serve as an especially fitting example of the resilience demonstrated by clutching birds in maintaining their species, regardless of what’s thrown at them.
Altricial birds – species like mourning doves that hatch featherless and entirely dependent upon their parents – benefit from nest dwelling during the earliest stages of life. Many of the orphans we receive have fallen from their nest for one reason or another, like thunderstorms and their accompanying wind gusts. Altricial babies are naturally at risk from the elements because they depend on their parents for everything, including warmth. Temperature changes can wreak havoc on a hatchling with no way to shield itself. Even if a baby remains in the nest and deals only with mild weather, that doesn’t mean it’s out of danger. A study in Alabama listed in Cornell’s database showed predation as causing 30% of all nestling deaths, and mourning doves, being a widespread prey species, face threats throughout their lives, though their speed and maneuverability as adults offer them some protection from more cumbersome raptors like the red-tailed hawk.
Despite predators, pesticides, bad weather, and lead shot, the species remains prolific. But how? The answer is simple efficiency. Due to their short life expectancy, mourning doves waste little time in making the most of things, achieving sexual maturity within 90 days and able to clutch again 30 days after the completion of their prior clutch. Though laying only two eggs at a time, they possess a long breeding season and have shown a willingness to lay new eggs while still caring for nestlings from their previous batch. For a bird that endures a 60% annual mortality rate, they certainly serve as an example of how even the most unassuming creature can, as a species, not only survive but numerically thrive, even when the odds are seemingly against it. If nothing else, the next mourning dove admitted into Liberty Wildlife should command a bit more respect for everything it’s done, or if it’s a baby, all it’s about to do.