Bluebirds, robins, cardinals, cedar waxwings, wood thrushes, carolina wrens, crows, owls, herons, kingfishers, bats, flicker, red bellied and pileated woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles, nuthatches, quail and the occasional pheasant, all frequent my neighbourhood in goodly number. Just how goodly is that number is a question scientists at Cornell University’s Bird Lab want to know. In order to get an accurate answer, they have sent me forms I am to fill after ten minutes of birdwatching.
Mine is not the only neighborhood where Cornell scientists want to hear about. Their urban bird project encompasses the whole of the United States. Anyone can participate. It costs nothing and as a bonus, applicants get a package of sunflower seeds. Check it out.


Tarahumara Sunflower from Territorial seeds is my choice for beauty and as a seed source for the birds.

The Turtle Dove by Anglo-French preRaphaelite Sophie Anderson (1823-1903)

Doves by Audubon

Linguistic evolution fascinates me. How did we come to equate villanus, farmworker, with wickedness? Is a rustic necessarily a criminal? Recent history teaches us that bankers and lawyers are often more villainous than farm workers, but will the English language endow both nouns with a negative meaning? The subject is on my mind because I ought to be working on a chapter of my novel, Whip of Fire, the second of the Luna Mellul series. That chapter deals with a man known as El Queso Fresco and his plot to kidnap Luna, the first ever a Bat Anussim detective–the B’nei Anoussim are descendants of forcibly baptized Iberian Jews . Luna lives in the village of Heavenly Hollow, West Virginia and she manages to get entangled with very wicked folks indeed.
This being one of these soft as silk mornings when sunlight brings with the song of mourning doves, aka rain doves, I find it easier to think of poetry. The villanelle La Tourterelle Envollee by Jean Passerat (1534-1602), for example,
Ie perdu ma Tourterelle
Est-ce point celle que ioie?
Ie veus aller apres elle.”
That, in turn, brings to mind Antonia’s aria from Jacques Offenbach’s Les Contes d”Hoffman, Elle a Fui la Tourterelle. I seem to recall hearing Kiri The Kanawa sing it years ago during a Public Broadcasting Systems presentation of Die Fledermaus. Later, during a BBC episode of All Things Bright and Beautiful, I heard a drunken farm workersand a ditty about “my queen, my turtledove.” What of mourning doves?
The Mexican classic Cucurrucucu Paloma notwithstanding, Zenaida macroura, the doves that lavish my mornings with sweet sound, lead vastly unsung lives for all that theirs is an epic struggle for survival. Rat snakes gobble up their eggs, cats decimate them and as if that were not enough, hunters kill 70 million of them annually “for sport and for the meat.” In my opinion, there can only be sport in shooting living creatures when the creatures can shoot back. As for the amount of meat provided by a mourning dove I suspect that it considerably less than the poundage available at the local supermarket.
Despite the annual carnage visited upon them by so-called sportsmen, mourning doves are not yet and endangered species. That is not the case of the Turtle Dove. According to the State of Europe’s Common Birds 2007 report, Turtle Dove population has shrunk by 62% in recent times. Hunting during migration is one of the factors in this dramatic change. The use of weed killers is another. Turtle Doves feed on plants from the Fumariacea family which short sighted farming practices will probably succeed in eliminating.
The huge number of blogs at
dealing with conservation and environmental issues demonstrates that there is a growing grassroots, no pun intended, movement towards the greening of the planet and wildlife preservation. Given that the 62% mortality rate for adult mourning doves seems to be attributed mostly to hunting, there does not seem to be a great one can do protect them at present. One can keep one’s cats indoors whenever possible–keeping one’s hunter indoors would be equally helpful. One can plant conifers and sow amaranth, millet, corn, millet and safflower to provide the seeds that make up almost 100% of the mourning doves’ diet. Americans interested in helping protect yhese and other besieged urban birds can find excellent suggestions, grants, and participatory projects at the Cornell University Ornithology Lab.

Let there be more villanelles in praise of birds and fewer villains hell bent on killing them. Let there be fewer villains altogether, except for El Queso Fresco, whose presence is part of The Whip of Fire and whose dastardly deeds shall not go unpunished. Next, we make cheese at Rain Dove House.