Hoping for a Coo Coup: Confessions of a Bird Lover

Woodpeckers two

Example of art hanging on our walls.

I like to think that I am a card-carrying bird lover. Nothing is sweeter to me than the morning cacophony of birds announcing the new day.  And, as Ann’s blog today testifies, birds are a unifying theme for the art hanging on our walls.

I even spent about a year constructing little houses for them.  The highlight being the occupancy of a family of Bewicks wrens (pictured on the right below).


In addition, I produced the widely acclaimed video An Airbnb for the Birds which features the wonderful winged creatures that visit our bird bath. Although I know that it is somewhat sacrilegious to claim a favorite among the bird visitors, the the zany acorn woodpeckers have to take the prize.  These clownish and expressive colorful bundles of energy never cease to amuse and amaze me.

Scenes from An Airbnb for the Birds

However, my credentials as a bird lover have recently been put to a test.  It all started when I began noticing a recurring “coo-cooing” in our back yard. To my surprise, I found myself becoming increasingly irked by the numbing repetitions.  A check with the Cornell web site, allaboutbirds.org, revealed that the source of my annoyance was the Eurasian Collared Dove.  

Eurasian Collared Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove – looking a little smug in my opinion

This is what the Eurasian collared dove call sounds like.  It is actually quite different from other dove calls:


I feel somewhat guilty about being annoyed.  As I found on one site, hearing a dove cooing can be a transcendent experience:

The softly lulling coos of the dove are testimony to a divinely calming presence among us. In fact, their soft vocalizations and docile appearance enhances their interpretation as celestial messengers – or the symbolic link between earth and air. The dove is a symbol of the soul’s release from its earth-bound duty.

I’m sorry, but my experience with cooing has been less than a “divinely calming presence.”  It is more like a variation on Chinese water torture which supposedly drives its victim insane with the stress of water dripping on a part of the forehead for a very long time.  I understand that this is a bit melodramatic, but the incessant cooing has been driving me bonkers.

Eurasian Doves in tree

Eurasian Collared Doves.  The volume of cooing convinces me that this is  what our back yard trees must look like.

Supposedly, male doves engage in this insipid oral behavior to impress the females. According to the Cornell web site, allaboutbirds.org,

The male advertises for a mate with an insistent koo-KOO-kook call from a high perch, repeating the call up to a dozen times in a bout, sometimes starting before dawn and continuing into the night.

This must be a big challenge for evolutionary theorists to explain.  What self-respecting female dove could fall for a dorky male sitting on a branch somewhere coo-cooing agonizingly boring repetitions hour after hour – hoping to hook up?  Not being a female dove, I will never be able to answer that question, but I do know that female doves who fall for such a gambit have lost my respect.  (As an aside, for much more about this very issue I recommend the highly entertaining and thought-provoking The Evolution of Beauty by Richard Prum).

While researching the Eurasion Collared Dove I felt somewhat vindicated for my grumpy reaction to them when I learned that these birds are not the most welcome of visitors.  According to a 2011 report from from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

No species of bird has colonized North America at the speed with which the Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) has marched across the continent. First found nesting just south of Miami, Florida, in 1982, this non-native dove has rapidly adapted to human-altered environments from Florida to Alaska. FeederWatch has provided a crucial source of information on this invasion and insight into how this invader may be affecting populations of native doves.


Can native American mourning dove  go beyond peacefully cooing and join a coup against these invaders?

It appears that the future of our native dove population may be bleak.  My wish is that for a brief time our native doves would stop thinking of themselves as iconic symbols of peace and in a coo coup would aggressively throw off the shackles of the Eurasian Collared Doves.  Perhaps then the softly lulling coos of the dove will once again be a divinely calming presence among us.









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