Thursday, January 29, 2015

Short-toed Doves

Paul Cyr sent me another great photo of a local bird last week: A Mourning Dove.

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 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 have a pretty good supply of overwintering doves here in my yard and I thought I'd check them out to see whether any of these showed similar injuries.  There were plenty feeding right out the window and I was able to get good looks at nearly all of their feet.

Out of 17 doves, NONE had a full set of toes!  This amazed me.  All the doves I observed were missing, at the minimum, the tips of at least one of the two central toes (as Paul's bird showed).  Many others were missing 3 four and five toe tips.  Several had lost their toes nearly back to the joints and were hobbling on stubs.  Some that weren't yet missing toes had shriveled and dark toe tips that were soon to be lost.  Yet here they were, shuffling along on the ground under my feeders, picking up seed and presumably doing all right.

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.


Quodlibet said...

Thanks for this very informative post! I've noticed that some of the doves at my feeder (in central) CT seem to be hobbling a bit, but I was not able to get a good look to see why. I think you have answered my question!

It has been very cold here, too; 4F this morning.

Bill Sheehan said...


ntzphyr said...

This is not uncommon nor new, I have images of doves from 10 years ago with the same affliction, many of them missing toes(claws). I came to the same conclusion as you, that they had lost them to freezing temperatures.
I'm from Madawaska.