As darkness descended, the last Mourning Dove baby peeked over the rain gutter edge. Its sibling had already left the nest. That morning, I saw a parent feed the nesting baby by regurgitating half-digested seeds into the baby’s eager mouth.
It must have tasted like heaven, like chocolate cake or peanut butter and jelly. The feeding was a wrestling match as the baby stretched its beak wide and grabbed Mama’s mouth. She fed the voracious one until it collapsed into a quiet sleep. Its head above the rain gutter edge disappeared into the stick nest.
A nest in a rain gutter? A month ago I was concerned about this unlikely spot outside my bedroom window. It was a wet and worrisome place to raise a family—a pile of twigs on top of smaller twigs with water rushing underneath during rain. And there has been abundant rain.
For weeks, I watched the parents come and go. Papa arrived when the sun rose over the hill for day duty. Mama left for the day and returned at sunset for night shift. The nestlings were never left unguarded.
For alnost three weeks, I didn’t see babies, but one morning I saw a fuzzy dark gray head like a child’s toy, a small Big Bird in gray. A few days later, a second floppy head peaked into the world. Their dark eyes scanned the horizon over the gutter edge, looking for their parents and food rather than enjoying the view.
I watched with binoculars and my camera with a Zoom lens. As the babies grew, Papa strutted on the roof, and the feedings grew more frequent and vigorous. The parent’s devotion filled my heart with joy.
One evening, I heard their whistling flight and thought I saw three Mourning Doves flying. Looking down, I saw three lined up on the wooden railing below my bedroom window, two parents and a smaller nestling. Dinner was served on the railing and also in the rain gutter nest for the baby waiting there.
The next morning, three family members waited below. I felt the power of their patience to wait as long as it took for the last baby to leave the nest. In a few days, all four were on the railing and the nest was empty.
I grieved for the loss of my companions, but the family stayed around. Mama sat on my deck below the nest and hopped on a bowl filled with rocks, a few semi-precious stones, and rain water. She perched there for an hour reminding me why I love gentle Mourning Doves and their quiet meditative patience.
I learned dove babies can’t fly far for a few days and stay nearby, so maybe they spent the night in the spruce tree near the bird feeder. The next morning, Mama returned and settled in under the picnic table. She and her mate stayed close to the house and the fledglings all week.
In a broken world, the Mourning Doves reassure me. They don’t read papers or follow the news. I hear their soothing Coo-coo-coo and the whistle of their wings and look outside to see them together pecking for seeds under the bird feeder or perched on the barn roof. The babies will stay with the parents to be fed until they can take care of themselves.
There are still Guardian Angels in this world.
Do you have birds or other wild animals that feel like family–at least temporarily? The Mourning Dove family is still here under the birdfeeder, on the porch, or on the barn roof. Do you share your life with birds, butterflies, lizards, or chipmunks? After diligent slow searching, I have 20 Monarch caterpillar babies. Monarch butterflies have been my guardians for years, and I’ll write more about that in my next blog. For my first post after the Mourning Doves arrived, see The Courtship of Aphrodite’s Doves. You might also enjoy Nature’s Lessons: Forgive, Protect, & Try Again.