Thursday, January 29, 2015
The bird was an attractive specimen with tan and gray-blue feathers melding into a subtle, pleasing plumage. The dove's sky blue eye ring was sublime. Its bright pink feet were...FROZEN!!!
I'm not 100% sure (and I hope I'm wrong) but the dove sure looked like its feet were so stiff they could not grab the branch on which the bird was balancing. For sure, the bird was missing some toe tips- in particular the outer portions of the longer central toes. It appeared this bird had frozen and damaged its outer digits while perched on a tree branch on a frigid northern night. I felt bad for the dove, but thought the bird's condition was probably not a surprise considering the regular subzero temperatures that northern Maine has experienced recently. I thought of a dove roosting on a branch...it could cover most of its feet with its fathers but that one, longer, central toe as it wrapped around the branch, was sure to be exposed.
I was quite shocked that so many of these birds were injured. I did some investigation of the literature to find out whether this was unusual. In bird banding papers primarily, I found that it is fairly common, in the north, to find Mourning Doves with missing toes. Apparently these birds, being relative newcomers to the northern climes have not adapted well to the cold. Here in northern Maine, Mourning Doves have really just become common winterers in the past 30 years. A short time.
Its tough to tell if the damage these birds are experiencing is a recent phenomena or something that happened over a long time. I suspect much of this toe loss has happened in the past couple of very cold months. (January is on track to be one of the colder on record here.)
Odds are that there are at least a few first-year birds in my little flock and the fact that I found no doves with intact feet would indicate these are injuries that occurred since summer.
I'll be watching their feet a little more closely the rest of this winter.