Well, it has been some winter, hasn't it? And it looks like it hasn't done with us yet, with another icy blast in the offing.
All the more amazing, then, given that my garden looked like this barely ten days ago with powder snow swept in modern-art-like streaks across my deeply frozen pond...
...that this bird came and sat right outside my study window this week:
You probably recognise it as a Collared Dove, but look - it has no collar.
It is a young bird, recently fledged from the nest, and still young enough that its parents were still coming to feed it on 'pigeon milk'.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo of that in action, but it is where the young bird reaches inside the parent's mouth and drinks a rich, milky fluid that is formed from the cells in the parent's throat. Penguins do it, flamingoes do it, and pigeons and doves do it, but that's all.
Here is one of the adults nearby, and you can just make out the black slash across the neck from which it is named.
So, by my reckoning, the young Collared Dove probably hatched in early February, and the egg was probably laid in mid January.
It's not unusual for Collared Doves to breed at any time of year, but I still admire the determination of this pair in bringing one chick through such awful weather. I find it all the more amazing given that in the early 20th century this species was basically a desert bird in the Middle East. It's incredible spread west and north was one of the bird phenomena of the 20th century, and now of course it is a familiar face in many a garden.
However, in very recent years, its populations have beguin to wane. It will be interesting to see the latest figures from the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch when they emerge soon, for this is one of the species that I predict will continue to decline. The rise of the Wood Pigeon is firmly implicated, for they are dominant over their smaller cousins, but we'll see.
For now, however, there is still plenty of chance to enjoy this rather humble little dove, and maybe in your garden too it will provide you with your first baby of the spring.
Nothing humble about these birds - they may look quiet and unassuming but they are more than capable of chasing magpies out of our garden! I enjoy watching both these and our wood pigeons, and I agree that they are amazing parents to be able to raise young in the weather we've been enjoying.
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