Thursday, 27 March 2008

Trapped in the coal bunker! - and update on nest in the barn


Yesterday morning when I went out early to feed the doves I was greeted by scattered white feathers on the door step. My heart sank as we have had several successful hawk strikes recently, but as there was no corpse and no bloody feathers I hoped that the dove had got away. I cleared up the doorstep feathers but left the ones trailing off towards the coal bunker. And although it crossed my mind to see if the dove had been chased into, or sought refuge in the bunker, I didn't actually check.

Later when I came home after lunch out, and was generally pottering in the garden with the dog, something caught my eye and I realised there was a dove squeezed in between the coal bunker and our shed kitchen. I couldn't tell if it was alive or dead because there was several pieces of wood propped up there, and I could only see white feathers.

(You can just see it behind the strip of pale wood)

I carefully moved the wood, piece by piece, and could then see that the dove was alive. I didn't know if it was injured, and crouched down to try and pick it up. It immediately moved away and having now been freed from the wood that was trapping it flew to the top of the bunker, and then onto the next highest level, the low roof, where it sat, appearing to get its bearings.

(A bit dazed but pleased to be free)

It appeared to be completely uninjured and could probably have wiggled its way out of the wood. I'm glad I found it though in case it was actually trapped. A white dove on the ground in our garden at night wouldn't have lasted very long. We have the rats back for one thing!

The dove flew to the main roof, and was immediately subjected to courting behaviour by a male dove, so I knew my trapped dove was female. He bowed and circled in front on her. She immediately flew away from him - hardly surprising. No lady is likely to be 'in the mood' after such a horrible experience.

She had obviously been chased by the hawk, but thankfully this time survived the ordeal.

There was a dove on the feeding table this morning with 'clutch' marks - it was probably the same dove. The injury is only like a graze would be to us, and she was feeding well.


Update on the nest in the barn (see blog dated 9th March '08)

The babies are now mini-adults! I haven't been back since the first time but when I visited the barn yesterday I could see them clearly. The flash on my camera is not powerful enough so I couldn't get a decent photo. They looked very healthy and contented, tucked up safe far above me on a wooden beam. There were some adults in the barn too, 3 or 4 of them - 2 no doubt the parents.

(The nest is there, on the vertical thicker beam just above the diagonal. You may be able to see it if you are able to enlarge the photo. The second photo shows one baby in the nest and the bigger one out of the nest to the right)

I may pop back to the barn today or tomorrow and put an empty cardboard box or two on the ground underneath the nest. The babies will be fluttering down soon, and then they will live on the ground, being fed by the parents there until they learn to fly. I hope they learn quickly! The boxes will give them something to hide in, and give them some protection. I don't expect I will go back to the barn after that though to check on the babies again. I daren't - because if I did and found evidence of their death it would make me sad.

(Doves in the barn - possibly parents, but probably not as they were at the opposite end of the barn)

Monday, 17 March 2008

Columba - back from the dead?


My beautiful dove, Columba, went missing on 2nd December '06. It was the same day that his sister, Lily came back home injured, possibly shot. I assumed that the doves had been shot at, as there was a shoot that day on the farm, and that Columba had died. We looked after Lily, and she recovered (see previous blogs) but I was still very sad that we'd lost Columba. He was a stunning pure white dove and fairly tame.

Today, when I went into the garden to feed the doves, they were all congregating on the feeding table, picking over the leftovers, and waiting impatiently for their breakfast. They flew to the roof while I filled the pans and flew back again before I'd even finished. I stayed close and watched them for a while; looking at all their feet and hoping to see John's purple ring.

Suddenly I realised that one dove was wearing a ring - a white ring. Not that easy to see on a white dove, although their feet are pink. At first I thought 'Oh that's nice, a ringed dove, one I can recognise, what shall I call him?' and then it struck me - Columba ! We didn't know for sure that he had died and he had been ringed with a white ring!

I thought about it and have decided that it most probably is my dove, Columba and I am very very happy to see him again after more than 15 months! In all the time I have been keeping doves (approx. 21 months) apart from my own I have only ever seen two other doves/pigeons with rings. One is the white dove I call Pinkie who wears a thick pink ring, and the other was a racing pigeon who stayed near us for a few days. He seemed poorly and we called him Eric - he wore two rings I think. So it would seem likely that a pure white dove, wearing a white ring of the type I use, is in fact Columba, rather than some random dove who happens to be ringed with white.

I wonder where he has been all this time, and what he has been doing? He certainly looked very well, and didnt have the slightly bedraggled look that some of the feral flock get.

Maybe the doves were shot at that December and he got frightened away. Or maybe he just left to find a mate.

When I left the house today he was on the lower part of the roof and I could see his ring clearly. He (and I think he is a he, although I don't know for sure) was with another dove, which appeared to be female (slender neck) so maybe he does have a mate.

I got into the car but a bird circling high up in the sky caused me to worry, and I got out and stood looking up for a while until it had gone away. I'm not sure it was the sparrowhawk, but I think it might have been.

When I got home later one of my neighbours had found a dead dove in her garden - the poor thing had been half eaten. But was not John. I am getting hardened to it now although it is distressing. But even this gruesome death has not destroyed my pleasure in having my prodigal son return just before Easter!
Photo shows two of the feral flock on the table and a pheasant who seems to like my garden at the moment!
Note: Columba and Lily were the first pair of squabs raised in my dovecote. Parents: Pax and Persephone.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Doves in the barn

Sunday 9th March '08

We live on a farm and today it occured to me to go down to the big barn to see if there was any evidence on doves roosting there at the moment. Doves have been there in the past.

The barn is big and airy, with open entrances - no doors. I walked in, watching my feet, as they are currently digging up the floor, prior to renovating the whole building. There were various feathers on the ground and some of them looked liked dove feathers. I walked to the far end, and there amongst the dirty bits of straw and general debris I found a discarded white eggshell!

I looked up to the rafters and could see a white dove on a precariously balanced scrappy nest. He or she was busy and didn't spot me at first. It was more likely that it was the male on the nest at that time, as it was about 1pm, and the male does the day shift, from about 10 am to 4pm. Then the female takes over for the longer night shift, from 4pm to the following morning.

I picked up the egg and watched the parent dove for a short time. He finished fussing with the squab/s (babies) and appeared to notice me. I walked slowly and quietly away so as not to disturb. As I left I scanned the beams for other doves, and noticed a smallish fluffy one sitting up high, but near the entrance to the barn. It was probably the female. She would no doubt stay close, unless she was off looking for food.

I felt cheered to know that at least one pair of doves are nesting close by. It is possible that it is John and a mate because anything is possible, but I don't really think so.

Before dusk a lone dove sat on the roof here for a long while and then came down for a feed before flying swifly away. Perhaps the mother dove before she had to sit for the night?
(Photo shows a dove on a nest, but not the one in the barn of course)

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Love to Loss


The following was posted in Purplecoo's Common Room on Valentine's Day:

Just now as it got dusk and I went to walk down to put our bin out, I noticed John was not in his nest box. Then two doves appeared in the sky and fluttered down to the roof.I could see they were male and female but didnt know 'who'. Sometimes doves come for a late feed, and I never put the food away til dark or John is in bed.I watched them on the roof for some time, and then one fluttered to the dovecote and went in..... so it was John, and he'd brought a female home!I held my breath watching to see if she'd join him. She fluttered to the hedge, twice, and to the top of the dovecote once, but she seems shy and has now settled on the side of the roof. I hope it's not too cold tonight, and she will be ok. I so hope they will become a bonded pair and have babies! Can you believe it - Valentine's Day of all days! Maybe it is true and it IS the birds' wedding day!


To continue the story.... the female dove stayed the night on the roof, and in the morning, fluffed up her wings, waited for lazy John to come out of the nest box, which he didn't until much later .... and then flew away! She didn't come back the next night,but on Sunday 17th, John again returned at dusk with a female - the first, or another one, who knows? This female ate with John, had a look round, but flew off before it got completely dark. Maybe the arrangements weren't up to her standards!

After that, John seemed quite happy to be a bachelor boy - getting up late, eating when he wanted to, and flying off with the feral birds whenever it took his fancy..... but always coming home at dusk.

We have had three hawk strikes in the garden that I know of recently.

The first one happened like this : I just opened the kitchen door as a hawk swooped down and took one of the two doves that were feeding on the table. It was so quick - there was a flash of brown, a flurry of white and I threw what I was holding in my hand at it, but too late.....soft, tender, white feathers everywhere. I had to wait til dusk to see if the unfortunate victim was my poor John. Luckily it was not.

The second one was even more of a shock. I opened the door and there within an arms length of me were a few fluttering doves and the hovering hawk! The doves never usually come this close to the door, in flight, and were no doubt chased from the feeding table. I saw the hawk clearly this time and recognised it as a female sparrowhawk. I screeched and the doves flew strongly away, as of course did Mrs. Hawk!

The next morning as a few doves preened on the roof, I noticed that one had a bloodied area under its wing.

The third attack happened on the morning I flew to Westerlix. My husband didn't tell me about it til I got home on Sunday not wishing to spoil my lovely weekend. (NB for any non-Purplecooers reading this who might wish to take a self-catering cottage holiday in a lovely part of Scotland, please have a look at the following link ). The hawk got the dove in this attack, but left what remained of the body in the garden, surrounded by copious feathers. My husband was relieved that it was not John, and even more relieved when he came home that night.

But the bad and sad news is that that was the last time John did come home. He hasn't been seen from then til now. I don't know what has become of him, and am very upset not to have my beautiful boy, named after my late father, peeking out of the dovecote at night. Every evening at dusk I used to look out for him, and was pleased to see him land on the low roof nearby.

He would sit for a while, looking round, and then walk slowly down the tiles, sit agan and then fly to the feeding table for a little supper. Then he would fly down to the lawn and walk in that funny way pigeons have, step by step, to the water bowl. In the end he was the only dove still to do so. There are small water bowls at each end of the table, for the doves' convenience, although there is plenty of water nearby because of the river but John used the lawn water bowl because he was one of my first 'homed' birds, and that was what he was used to doing when he first came here nearly two years ago.

Now ALL my original doves are dead or missing. I have to presume John is dead or he would come back, I know he would. The males choose the nesting site, so if he had a mate he would bring her back here. There is still a little hope, but not much. It is five days now .....

So what will I do next?

I have decided that I can't stop feeding the feral white pigeons that come here daily, especially as it is still very cold and they rely on the food. I don't want to stop feeding them either. I enjoy having them here, and though they aren't mine as such, I recognise some of them and delight in their beauty and their company. They bring the garden to life just as much as the little bluetits and robins.

I accept the fact that I can do little about the sparrowhawk. The following comes from the RSPB site (I am a RSPB member):


A sparrowhawk in the garden can be an exciting occurrence. To see one of these beautiful birds so close and witness its hunting prowess is a treat, but to see one taking one of the small birds you have attracted into your garden can understandably invoke mixed emotions.

Many people enjoy being able to add the sparrowhawk to their list of garden visitors, but others are not so sure. Try to take the view that having a sparrowhawk visiting your garden is a good thing - the presence of such a top predator indicates that the bird population in your area is doing well.

Even though sparrowhawks feed almost exclusively on small birds, they do not affect their overall numbers. Songbirds produce far more young every year than would be needed to maintain the population.

All these extra birds will die of starvation, disease or predation before the following breeding season and there would not be enough territories or food for so many. Sparrowhawks simply prey on those birds that would have died anyway.


If you feel you must deter the sparrowhawk, there are a few deterrents available, although their effectiveness is dependent on the availability of alternative feeding sites for the hawk. Rather than deter them, try to learn to admire the skill and beauty of this very specialised hunter.

Bamboo canes on lawn to turn fast approach route into an obstacle course

Half-full plastic bottles or CDs hung up in trees to scare the predators away.

If feeders are under an overhang (eg under tree branches) hang strings like bead curtain strands a few inches apart around the perimeter of the overhang to slow down the hawk

The GuardnEyes scarecrow balloon works by introducing, what the hawk believes to be, a higher level of predation, so that it in turn feels stalked. If alternative feeding areas exist, the hawk may be encouraged to move elsewhere.


Not this Summer, but possibly next, I may feel that I would like to home a few more doves. It is a bit of a palaver with keeping the doves under the homing net for six weeks and I'm not sure what the feral lot would think of them, or how they would treat them when the six weeks was over and they were allowed out.

At present, I will just enjoy the beautiful visitors. There are still plenty, despite the hawk. I counted fifteen on the roof the other day.
Note: Before Christmas I made a photobook for family members. If you wish have a look at it here: (put 'doves' into the search. It's the top one, called 'Our Doves'.