While perusing the notes on the Pa-Birds listserv last week, a subject line from Feb. 17 caught my eye. It was posted by a friend of more than 20 years, and it read, "My annual dove!"
Kermit Henning of Mechanicsburg, Pa., a town just west of Harrisburg, reported that for the fourth consecutive year, he had an active mourning dove nest in his carport. Furthermore, Henning wrote that the nest contained two eggs on Jan. 15. In a recent phone conversation, Henning told me the eggs had hatched about a week ago.
"I can't be certain it's the same female because she isn't banded," he told me, "but a dove has nested at eyelevel just a foot from the back door in my carport for four years now. In 2010 she raised five broods, and last year she raised six."
According to the online edition of The Birds of North America, mourning doves typically live about one year, so Henning's bird is either getting old, or perhaps one of her kids or grandchildren continues to use the carport. Birds often return to the area where they were hatched, so it's not unreasonable to think that the carport has become a family tradition. On the other hand, I did find one record of a wild mourning dove living more than 19 years, so it's possible this female has lived four years.
Henning's backyard is surrounded by mature conifers, a preferred nesting habitat for mourning doves. "I guess she likes the protection the carport provides," Henning said. "Whenever I walk by, she sits tight and watches me. The nest itself is protected from wind, rain and snow. It sits between two mallard decoys on top of a shelf. In 2009, the nest was on top of a ladder."
Nesting close to the house also may ensure protection from predators. Average mourning dove nest success ranges between 35 percent and 60 percent, but so far every nest in Henning's carport has been successful. And he said about one-third of the nests have contained three eggs rather than the typical two.
I asked Henning how long the nesting season lasts for his carport dove. "It's usually been late October or November when she fledges the final brood," he said. That means, if the same female is responsible for all these nests, she gets about eight weeks each year free from nesting responsibilities. I doubt that few tropical species keep this busy.
Near year-round nesting by mourning doves is not unusual in southern latitudes. From the Gulf coast to southern California, doves often nest year round. However, an active nest in central Pennsylvania in mid-January seems almost miraculous.