Category Archives: Doves & Chickens

Turkey Day

Turkeys in a Pittsburgh backyard, 7 Nov 2023 (photo by Kathy Saunders)

23 November 2023

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are thriving in Pittsburgh’s suburbs. This flock of 14 feels right at home in a Kathy Saunders’ backyard.

Meanwhile, where have all the city turkeys gone? A decade ago they were easy to find in Schenley Park and Oakland but I haven’t seen one here in three years. This vintage article describes an impromptu Turkey Day at WQED when six came for a visit in November 2011.

Happy Thanksgiving!

(credits are in the captions)

The Original Drone

Homing pigeon in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4 September 2023, Labor Day

On Labor Day, when I honor working birds, homing pigeons come to mind because they’re willing to try almost anything their keepers invent.

For centuries homing pigeons made themselves extremely useful by carrying messages, especially during wartime. The messages were carried in a pack strapped to the bird’s chest or inserted in a message tube strapped to the bird’s leg.

Homing pigeon with message tube on its leg (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Then in 1907, German apothecary Julius Neubronner, who used pigeons to deliver medications, decided to try aerial pigeon photography. He designed an aluminum breast harness and a lightweight time-delayed miniature camera to fit on a homing pigeon. It worked so well with his own pigeons that he applied for a German patent.

Homing pigeon carrying a camera, 1926 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But, as Wikipedia explains, the patent office rejected his claim until he sent them pigeon-made aerial photos. They granted his patent in December 1908.

Aerial photos taken by homing pigeons (photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Pigeon photography held great promise for World War I but was overshadowed by the invention of portable dovecoats to improve messaging and airplanes from which humans could do their own surveillance. So the fleets of camera-carrying pigeons just didn’t take off.

Three homing pigeons with cameras (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II the CIA briefly flirted with the idea of pigeon photography but it, too, went nowhere. Now they have drones.

Recreational drone, July 2016 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I wonder if people realize that pigeons were the original drones.

Read more about Pigeon photography at Wikipedia. Happy Labor Day.

(photos from Wikimedia; click on the captions to see the originals)

Baby Doves Get Taken For A Ride

Juvenile mourning dove on a fence, 2008 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

15 August 2023

Last Sunday while Bob Donnan was at the Pirates’ game, two young birds nestled in the windshield wiper well of his car.

Yesterday [13 August] when our Chevy Bolt was parked at the South Hills Village – Public Rapid Transit garage, two young [Mourning] Doves nestled into the lower windshield area. We didn’t even notice them until exiting the garage into brighter light! 

The car is so quiet that their short ride didn’t alarm them. After I stopped the car and waited for all traffic to pass, I waved my hand toward them and they flew off, back toward the parking garage.

— email from Bob Donnan, 14 August 2023
Immature mourning doves are surprised to take a ride (video by Bob Donnan)

I could tell by the birds’ appearance that they are juvenile mourning doves because they look spotty rather than smooth. Juvenile body feathers are so new that each one has a pale tip, giving the bird a scalloped look. Compare the top photo of a juvenile with this one of an adult.

Mourning dove adult (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Why did the two birds hang out together?

Mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) nest multiple times per season and at each nesting the female lays two eggs that hatch in 14 days and fledge 12-15 days later. Just before they fledge the father completely takes over feeding duty so his mate can cycle and lay a new clutch.

The siblings are dependent on their father for 12-15 days after they fledge (26-30 days old). During this period they stay together in the same area during the day, never straying far, waiting for dad to show up. In the nest they learned to associate his voice with a feeding so if he calls they come.

Interestingly they have good homing skills even at this young age. If juveniles are forced from their “reference area” before they are 21 days old — i.e. while still dependent on their father — they always return within 24 hours.

Why at the parking garage?

Mourning doves nest in trees, shrubs and even on the ground but they have no problem nesting near humans and, according to Birds of the World, “may use unusual human-made substrates for nest sites, e.g. rain spouts, mops hanging on walls, immobile car accessories.”

Hmmm. “Immobile car accessories.” These two are probably not the only baby doves who’ve been taken for a ride.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons, video by Bob Donnan)

Count Wild Turkeys Now Through August

Wild turkey (photo by A. Drauglis via Flickr Creative Commons license)

Wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) are declining statewide in Pennsylvania and the PA Game Commission is working to find out why.

Their wild turkey population study continues this year with PGC asking folks to count and report wild turkeys in PA from July 1 through August 31. Use this link to make your report

Last year’s article provides all the details at …

p.s. Wild turkeys have declined a lot in my patch with a complete absence of wild turkeys in Schenley Park for the past two years. I used to see as many as 8.

(photo credits and links are in the caption)

Pigeons Clap In Courtship

Rock pigeon in flight (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2 March 2023

It’s spring and our local pigeons (Columba livia) are prancing in courtship. The males bow and coo to their chosen mates and accompany their ladies in flight. When their courtship is successful the males clap their wings.

You can hear cooing and wing clapping in this audio clip …

… and see it as they fly in this video.

video from @MrMattperry on YouTube

Learn their courtship moves in this vintage article. Keep track of the pairs you see on the pavement. Pigeons mate for life!

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, video from @MrMattperry on YouTube, click on the captions to see the original)

Wild Turkeys Introduced

Two tom turkeys introduce themselves to the ladies (photo by Cris Hamilton)

30 December 2022

Wild turkeys introduce themselves to each other on a personal basis but when it comes to where they live humans get involved.

Last summer eBird revised their species maps to show “introduced” versus “native” ranges of all the birds. For North American species that have been introduced elsewhere in the U.S. the results were bi-colored orange and purple maps. See maps for introduced house finches and bobwhites at Common Birds, Exotic Ranges.

Apparently wild turkeys were introduced, too. So how do the native turkeys stay neatly on their own side of the Washington-Idaho border? Don’t they introduce themselves to the other guys?

(photo by Cris Hamilton)

Wild Turkey Fight?

Wild turkey male, strutting (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

23 Nov 2022

Wild turkeys are ancestors of the domestic turkeys we eat on Thanksgiving. Understandably, wild turkeys avoid humans but in rare instances a male becomes aggressive toward people. This happens because turkeys are social birds.

Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) flocks have a social structure called a pecking order that’s especially important during the breeding season in March to May. Dominant males puff and strut and confront other males to maintain their own dominance. If a subordinate gets out of line the dominant turkey struts and gobbles at him, pecks him, or flies at him with spurs exposed. Notice the spur below.

Male wild turkey, focus on the spur (cropped photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A dominant male who is acclimated to people may mistake us as subordinates and try to put us in our place. Occasionally one becomes fixated on bicycles and the cyclists riding them(*).

In one case in Livermore, California an aggressive wild turkey made a motorist’s day. A policeman stopped a speeding driver and was going to issue a ticket but a wild turkey saw the motorcycle and challenged the police officer.

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife has advice on how to prevent wild turkey aggression toward people.

Aggressive behavior towards people occurs when turkeys have become overly comfortable in the presence of humans, usually over several months or even years, in areas where turkeys are fed. [For this reason] Never intentionally leave out food like bird seed or corn in attempts to help or view turkeys.

Spring Tips for Aggressive Turkeys

(*) p.s. I wonder if male turkeys that attack bicycles mistake the wheels for large fanned tail displays.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, videos embedded from YouTube)

Rainbow Dove

Pink-necked Green-pigeon Male BP_29012012_001

Pink-necked green pigeon, Singapore (photo by Chop Lip Mun embedded from Flickr)

1 August 2022

If our city pigeons were this beautiful, would we take them for granted?

The pink-necked green pigeon (Treron vernans), a native of Southeast Asia and Indonesia, is a fruit-eating forest bird well adapted to human landscapes. Graced with the colors of a pastel rainbow, the male is sometimes called the rainbow dove.

Pastel rainbow (free clipart from

His mate is much plainer, mostly olive green

Pink-necked Green-pigeon Couple BP_29012012_002

Pink-necked green pigeons: female foreground, male in background (photo by Chop Lip Mun embedded from Flickr)

Their voices do not sound like pigeons.

Despite the female’s camouflage, nesting safely is a challenge. When she sees a threat approaching she opens her wings to look larger but her display doesn’t scare off the male Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopaceus) who successfully steals her eggs. (Despite their appearance Asian koels are cuckoos, not crows.)

As for the pigeons, they will court and lay a new clutch very soon.

p.s. The photo at top has been making the rounds of social media without attribution. It took me a while to find the original location and photographer: Singapore, January 2012, by Chop Lip Mun. I have embedded his photos using Flickr’s sharing tool.

(photos by Chop Lip Mun embedded from Flickr, sound from Xeno Canto, pastel rainbow clipart from; click on the captions to see the originals)

Count Turkeys in PA

Wild turkeys in Central Pennsylvania, Sept 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

18 July 2022

Once again it’s time to count wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) in Pennsylvania.

Every year the PA Game Commission conducts a statewide Wild Turkey Sighting Survey, July 1 to August 31, to collect data on the size and makeup of our wild turkey population.

They ask for the public’s help to report what we see on the Turkey Brood Survey website. It’s pretty easy to do.

  • The survey runs from July 1 to August 31.
  • Count the turkeys you see and use the Survey page to enter the data
    • Record the location where you see them.
    • Count “big” versus “little” birds — adult vs juvenile.
    • Record the sex for all adults, if possible. (Consult the Wild Turkey Poster.)
    • Don’t double count. See the Survey page for more info on this.
    • Give some basic contact info in case PGC has questions.

Here are two photos to give you practice counting: (1) “Big” and “Little” birds, and (2) Count the flock.

Wild turkeys, mother and juveniles, July 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Wild turkeys in central Pennsylvania (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

How many did you count?

Get outdoors with the Wild Turkey Sighting Survey.

p.s. I fear there will be a low/zero count of turkeys in the city. They used to be plentiful in Frick and Schenley Parks but not anymore.

UPDATE on 2 Aug 2022: Turkeys have declined in Pennsylvania from a high of 280,000 twenty years ago (2001) to 159,000 last year (2021). The PA Game Commission is conducting a study to find out why.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

From Flocks to Nests

Mourning dove flock on a fence in winter (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

13 April 2022

In spring a change occurs in mourning dove behavior as large flocks we see in winter disperse to nest. Some flocks move north while locals break up into couples and fan out to choose a territory.

It is hard to notice when the change occurs so I graphed my eBird count of mourning doves (Zenaida macroura) in Frick and Schenley Parks, January 2021 through 9 April 2022.

My eBird counts of mourning doves in Frick & Schenley, 1 Jan 2021 through 8 April 2022 (data from Kate St. John)

The change is pretty dramatic. Just 1-5 birds from March through September, then over 40 December through February. The largest flocks were at the Frick Environmental Education Center where they sunned in the trees above the feeders. 100 mourning doves in January!

Mourning dove flock in winter sun (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This year the count dropped below 10 in early March as they paired up. Some pairs maintain their bonds throughout the winter. Others get to know each other in the spring.

Wary pair of mourning doves in California (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On territory the male visits potential nest sites and calls to his mate to inspect them. She gets to choose. (His nest call is 3 notes like this).

According to Birds of the World: To build the nest he brings small twigs, etc. which he delivers to her while standing on her back(!) She arranges them around her while using her body to form a simple bowl. Nest building usually takes 7–10 hours spread over 2–4 days.

The loosely built nest looks messy. Sometimes you can see through it from below.

Mourning dove nest with egg (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And they mate. She lays her first egg within 2 days of nest completion. Subsequent eggs are one or two days apart.

Mourning dove pairs share incubation as they wait for the eggs to hatch in 14 days. Surprisingly neither bird has a brood patch but it works anyway.

The chicks are fed by regurgitation and grow up to resemble their parents. They fledge in 13-15 days, sooner if frightened.

Adult with two almost grown chicks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Juveniles remain in speckled plumage through August. By winter they look like adults.

Juvenile mourning dove in September (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And in October mourning doves gather in flocks again. The process starts over from flocks to nests.

UPDATE 13 April 2022: Today at Frick Park I talked with someone who has a mourning dove nest in their yard while 16 mourning doves hung out near the feeders. Flocking and nesting were simultaneous today.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)