While southern New Mexico may not harbor any wild turtle-doves as called for in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song, it is home to eight different species of doves and pigeons, six of which are native to our area and all of which have visited our backyard in the North Valley at least twice.
Most are non-migratory and live here year-round, whereas the others may move southward during the winter, but all seem to share the symbolism of peace and the prospect of renewal, making them an appropriate totem for Christmas and the New Year.
The largest family member in our region is the band-tailed pigeon, a mostly gray, lanky, long-tailed bird that resides in coniferous forests of the high mountains and only occasionally visits the lower elevations, and then usually as it migrates to or from its Mexican wintering grounds. One individual snacked on mulberries in our neighbor’s tree one day in May and another visited a bird feeder in the fall several years later.
The next largest, the rock pigeon, is familiar to city dwellers across the country and in Europe, where it originated. The natural plumage is mostly gray with black wing bars and some iridescent green on the neck, but white, black, and splotchy forms occur as well. Folks who regard their droppings as a nuisance may appreciate the moniker, “flying rats,” but urban-savvy peregrine falcons consider them prime pickings for breakfast.
Eurasian collared-doves were also introduced from Europe, and in just a few short decades have colonized much of North America. These ghostly pale birds are comfortable in towns and residential areas, often perch on utility poles and wires, and can be heard uttering their hooting calls nearly any time of year.
The familiar white-winged dove is a southwestern species, ranging from southeastern California to the Gulf Coast of Texas, and until pecan orchards proliferated in our area used to migrate southward for the winter.
Here, many remain year-round, feeding on nuts that have been crushed by vehicles, and in fact Las Cruces has recorded some of the highest numbers of these birds in the nation on Christmas Bird Counts. People that put out sunflower seeds for birds often are frustrated by how quickly a flock of these doves can empty out a feeder, but they might be interested to know that Arizonans generally admire white-winged doves. There, most
individuals depart for the winter and are welcomed back upon their return in the spring, for they play an important role in pollinating the flowers of the saguaro cactus.
Only slightly smaller is the mourning dove, a slender brownish-gray bird with black spots on its upper wings and a long, pointed tail. Year-round residents, they are most commonly seen in brushy, open areas and known for their mournful, cooing call that resembles that of an owl. They range across North America and, like whitewinged doves, are avidly hunted by Cooper’s hawks and sportsmen alike.
Inca doves are among the smallest in the family, with scaly-looking plumage, reddish wingtips when seen in flight, and a long tail. More common in Texas, Mexico, and Central America, they occur in small numbers in southern Arizona and New Mexico, and are year-round residents of towns and barnyards. Feeding on grains and the seeds of weeds and grasses, in cold weather they may roost in a pile on top of each other to conserve heat. Their calls, sounding like “no hope,” are often repeated over and over.
The smallest doves in our area, common and ruddy ground-doves, are also the rarest. The former is more often encountered in both Arizona and the Gulf Coast states, while the latter is largely confined to Mexico and Latin America, but both occur in our area on occasion. About the same size as Inca doves but with much shorter tails, they too feed on the ground, and may associate with flocks of Inca doves.
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