Wildlife: Early spring for Central Pennsylvania mourning doves

February 26, 2012 12:00 am

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Last week, while perusing Internet notes on Pennsylvania birding (http://birdingonthe.net), a subject line from Feb. 17 caught my eye. It was posted by a friend of more than 20 years, and it read, "My annual dove!"

Kermit Henning of Mechanicsburg, a town located just west of Harrisburg, reported that for the fourth consecutive year, he had an active mourning dove nest in his carport. Furthermore, Henning wrote that the nest contained two eggs on Jan. 15. In a recent phone conversation, Henning told me the eggs had hatched about a week ago.

"I can't be certain it's the same female because she isn't banded," he told me, "but a dove has nested at eye level just a foot from the back door in my carport for four years now. In 2010 she raised five broods, and last year she raised six."

According to the online edition of "The Birds of North America" (http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna) mourning doves typically live about one year, so Henning's bird is either getting old, or perhaps one of her kids or grandchildren continues to use the carport. On the other hand, I found one record of a wild mourning dove living more than 19 years.

Henning's backyard is surrounded by mature conifers, a preferred nesting habitat for mourning doves.

"I guess she likes the protection the carport provides," Henning said. "The nest is protected from wind, rain and snow. It sets between two mallard decoys on top of a shelf. In 2009, the nest was on top of a ladder."

Nesting close to the house also may ensure protection from predators. Average mourning dove nest success ranges about 35 to 60 percent, but so far every nest in Henning's carport has been successful. And he said about one-third of the nests have contained three eggs rather than the typical two.

Nearly year-round nesting by mourning doves is not unusual in southern latitudes. From southern Texas west to southern California, doves often nest year round. However, an active nest in central Pennsylvania in mid-January seems almost miraculous.

If you have any active bird nests right now, I'd like to hear about them. Egg and hatching dates would be especially useful. My earliest backyard nesters are usually Carolina wrens in early March.

First Published 2012-02-25 23:13:07

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