Every year, doves seem to make nests around our house in locations that are vulnerable to wind, heat or predators. Obviously, there's no shortage of doves in the Sonoran Desert, so they must manage to propagate the species in these parts. But if the doves we've witnessed were in charge of the breeding program, I'd put even money on their disappearing from the scene.
At first I found the fate of our dove nests really hard to take. Over time, though, I became rather numb to the seemingly inevitable bad end to which they would come. That's why I didn't get my hopes up when I saw nesting activity in the hanging cactus by our front door a few weeks ago.
Mind you, the location -- shielded from midday and afternoon sun, inaccessible to terrestrial predators, benefiting from the insurance of being near a lot of human activity -- seemed better than the ones I'd noted in previous years. Nonetheless, I was pretty sure that something would reveal a hidden flaw in the doves' family planning. Then an egg hatched. And, instead of absentee parents, it was tended by extremely dutiful ones.
Once, when I had to walk near the nest to get the hose, the dove currently minding the nest flew down on the driveway and began to do the my-wing-is-broken routine that birds use to distract predators from their progeny. I followed that bird all the way across the street, still doing a great acting job, to make sure it wasn't actually injured. But then it flew up onto the roof of a nearby house and, soon after, returned to its perch outside our front door.
This morning I went to our front window to acknowledge our teenage cat Punka's excitement at the nest -- she has been watching it intently since she first noticed the adult bird sitting in the cactus -- and realized that one baby bird had become two: another egg had hatched.
Frankly, I didn't realize that there could be such a long gap between hatchings in the same nest. But the evidence was indisputable.
When I went outside a few minutes later, I could get a really good view, which clearly showed that one of the babies was considerably bigger and more developed than the other.
Later in the afternoon, it looked like the two baby birds had become one again. The newly hatched one was still there, but its older sibling was not to be seen. I immediately thought the worst and carefully checked the vicinity for signs that something bad had happened to it. The more I thought about it, though, the more likely it seemed that it had simply made its maiden voyage. In the first photo here, taken last week, it already looks well on its way to being able to fly.
At any rate, I decided to remain optimistic. When I came home this evening, there were once again two birds in the cactus. But it didn't look like a parent and child. Do fledgling doves return to their nest after they have managed to take off? It certainly seemed that the older baby bird, whom my daughter named "Harry," had returned for the night. And when I looked outside a little while ago, I could swear I saw three birds in the nest, though that might have been a trick of the light. Anyway, I'm going to sleep now with the happy thought that we have finally experienced the sort of dove "family values" that lead to successfully raising offspring. Oh, and did I mention the nest of quail eggs I found while watering? I sure hope they hatch, because baby quails are the cutest things ever.