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'.


Elizabethd said...

What a nuisance to find Jason on your site. I thought there was a little delete bin, but cant see it anywhere.
Your doves are so lovely, hope John comes back, but if not, you can only go forward. I'm sure a dove will find you.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Faith - there should be a little icon of a dustbin - bottom left - click on that and you will get rid of Jason.

Thank you for the up-date. I too hope John returns - but if he doesn't then you can at least enjoy the feral doves.

I thought the RSPB site gave a very balanced view - ie how to look at the situation another way - plus tips on how to deter hawks if you felt that was the way for you.

Fern said...

I am so sorry to hear that John hasn't come back yet, I know how much he means to you. I'll keep my fingers crossed that he turns up.