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Tell us what you think is happening in this 19-second bird video

I took this video on a rainy day last summer. I had seen two mourning doves on my deck and several times, they seemed to “cuddle up,” with one placing a wing over the other. I did manage to get a 19-second video of the behavior. I’m no birder, but I thought I knew what was going on: I figured the wing-lifting dove was a parent to the other and was actually shielding the younger one from rain.

Christen Goguen and I put these tender titles on the film accordingly.

But I’ve always wondered if my theory would hold with real birders. Well, the results are mostly against me. The kind response from Wayne R. Petersen, Director of Massachusetts Important Bird Area (IBA) Program Mass Audubon, made me laugh at myself:

“I’m not sure what’s going on with the Mourning Doves. I will say, however, that I’m not sure that the rain necessarily has anything to do with the behavior. Unfortunately the video clip is sufficiently distant that I can’t be certain of the age of the dove being shielded, but if it’s a juvenile, then it could conceivably be an effort on the part of the other dove to brood it; however, given the size of the bird I hardly think that’s what’s going on.”

It gets worse:

“Mourning Doves regularly will raise one wing toward another, especially in an aggressive situation like under a bird feeder. Don Stokes refers to this behavior as ‘wing-raising,’ where one dove ‘raises one or both wings and may even hit another bird with its wing.’ ‘This usually occurs in aggressive encounters on the ground around feeders. Mourning Doves may also do this to other bird species and to small mammals such as squirrels.’ I’m afraid I can’t do any better than this. Sorry I can’t be more definitive.”

Two other heavy hitters from the bird world have weighed in. One actually agrees with me! And the other, of course, with Wayne.

Viewers, please tell us what YOU think. Would love to hear more opinions on this puzzling little video.

–Vicki Croke

5 Responses to “Tell us what you think is happening in this 19-second bird video”

  1. Amy Mantravadi

    I saw a couple doves sitting on the fence in our backyard while it was raining, raising one wing up in the air and then the other. It looked to me like they were trying to get a bath of sorts.

    • winnie

      I agree. I always see them, usually one off by itself, when it rains or the sprinklers come on. They lift one wing then the other.

  2. Gordon Atkinson

    I have a lot of white wing doves at my feeders here in Texas. My observation is that one dove will often raise a wing when another lands on the feeder tray. It seems to be a territorial thing. Either a threat to drive the other bird away or a ruse to make it seem bigger, like ruffling fur on some mammals.

    Either way, the one that raises the wing often frightens off others. They do this with other birds who land as well.

    And then sometimes they eat together in peace. I think certain individuals are more aggressive and protective, which is also common among many creatures, including our species.

  3. Keith

    I observed a mourning dove performing this while perched on a high tree branch in a steady/heavy rain this morning. There were no other doves around that I could see. After that it preened itself, so it’s possible, as suggested above, that the wing-raising was part of its bath.

  4. Delores Bacon

    I recently observed a dove feeding on my deck. A squirrel quietly started feeding less than 3 ft. from the dove. The dove didn’t fly away. After a while the dove raised it’s left wing and walked around in front of the squirrel. When it turned around to feed in the other direction it raised the other wing. Both times the raised wing faced the squirrel like a shield. At one point the dove raised both wings. The squirrel never responded. Eventually the dove flew off. What a display!


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