Garden Residents of the Day: Robins and Mourning Doves

We’ve had a lot of birds nesting in the yard this year. It really is a testament to how much life a small suburban yard can support if you make space for wildlife. So far, we’ve had:

  • 2 Robin’s nests (1 under the deck, 1 over it)
  • 1 Mourning Dove nest (in the crabapple tree next to the house)
  • 3 Carolina Wren nests (all in the birdhouse gourds I hung this spring)
  • 2 House Sparrow nests (1 in a wren house, 1 in a bluebird house)

And those are only the ones I’ve found – I suspect there is a Cardinal nest somewhere that I never found, since the cardinals were very agressive in the yard this spring, and there may be others in the tall trees that I haven’t spied.

I’ve moved the compost cam to the top of our deck’s arbor so I can spy on the latest Robin nest, which is in a prime sheltered location just under the eave of our house. Most of the cam clips are of the Robins taking turns incubating the eggs, but this one is a great shot of one of the parents rolling the eggs. Birds do this to help the eggs incubate. Ideas of why birds roll their eggs during incubation include making sure that the embryo inside has adequate access to the nutritional white in the egg, making sure the membrane around the embryo does not adhere to the wall of the egg, and making sure that the eggs are evenly warmed.

I’ve also been watching a pair of Mourning Doves nest in the crabapple tree on the south side of the house, just 15 or so feet beyond the Robin’s nest in the photo above. At first the doves would startle when I walked along the side of the house, which is how I noticed the nest. Now they are content to sit on the nest even when I come within a few feet of it (which happens frequently, since my veggie garden is very close). Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • The nest looks fragile and cobbled together, but is quite well built. It has withstood a derecho and a storm that spawned multiple tornados in the area. After each storm I went outside expecting to find the nest on the ground, but it was still standing.
  • Mourning Doves (and other birds, I’m sure) are fearless. When I peeked out at them during the storm, one parent was always sitting on the nest, even as the tree looked like it would be blown flat to the ground.
  • Mourning doves lay 2 non-descript looking white eggs at a time. When their chicks hatch, the first you will see of them is when they are little grey balls of fluff.
  • According to sources on the internet, the father will sit on the nest during the day and the mother will sit on it at night. I sincerely apologize to Papa Mourning Dove for calling him Mama for several days before I learned this.
  • Once the chicks hatch, it will seem the parent caring for the nest never leaves it. I know they must leave at some point, but I have not been able to catch the nest unattended. Since they feed the chicks crop milk, is it possible that they don’t leave at all for 12 hours? That they eat as much as possible during their off shift and then use their reserves to feed hungry chicks while on shift? That is my best guess for what happens. I may need to move the compost cam to confirm.
Can you see the little chicks just in front of the parent?

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