By Mary Alice Kellogg
The cooing of Mourning Doves was the sound of my childhood, spent in the desert Southwest. I called them ‘Morning Doves,’ as their sound was not mournful to me, but sweet music.
Moving to New York four decades ago, I missed that. But, as I adjusted to the City symphony, I found that my world contained more than the noise of sirens, stomping feet overhead, and the ravings of the local psychotic. I heard birds. The unpretty chirps of cardinals, sparrow songs, and the dominant pigeon coos that never sounded as sweet as the doves’ coos. “I hear birds in the morning,” I’d tell friends who didn’t live here. I wondered if they believed me.
And then: I began to hear Mourning Dove music close by, waking often thinking that I’d see cactus and palo verde instead of the corralled trees of neighbors’ gardens. Through trials—divorce, the death of my father, godmother, mother—hearing these sounds gave me comfort.
Last July, for the first time, the doves came closer. Twigs were placed on the ledge between the air conditioner and the wall outside my bedroom window. Flashes of honey brown feathers and the unique whirring sound doves make in flight occupied a few short days. Then they moved in, sitting on, what I learned were the normal, two tiny eggs. What I assumed was the mom sat for hours, her Paul Newman-blue ringed eyes always staring at me when I opened the opposite window to water my potted herb garden. She didn’t budge. Nor did dad, who took over nesting duties half of the time. There was a heat wave and I worried about turning on the air conditioner to disturb them. “Just turn on the AC and let the doves make the decision,” said a wise friend. I did. They stayed. Two decidedly unattractive grey fledglings emerged, growing more honey brown, beautiful, and large by the day. So quickly, in fact, that one day they were gone. Without a thank you note. Nonetheless, I felt proud.
This past June, another dove pair arrived (evidently word of beak had spread). Same miraculous result—the sound of cooing as one mate relieved the other became my morning soundtrack. My cat—alarmed that there were creatures on the other side of the air conditioner accordion barrier the first time—became uninterested, a real New Yorker. I thought I was through with dove-raising for the year, until, in early July, yet another pair arrived to lay eggs and snuggle in. The fledglings grew with abandon until one day one flew away. The other was more reticent, until, during a rainstorm, the mother and sibling arrived on the air conditioner and, finally, the holdout left too.
I don’t know if the June and July mom was the same one (perhaps the harlot of the dove community?) or simply part of the dove nest rental network. I don’t judge. The nest is empty now, but last week another came to scout and sit. If I were still living in the desert, I would have no clue where the doves nested, how they raised their young. But doves, like New Yorkers, live their lives in close quarters. For me, being an Air Bird Birth landlady is simply a close-up miracle.