Birds and Burglary

I’ve become obsessed with birds over the past year of lockdown, after a mourning dove couple began nesting directly outside our kitchen window. We saw the doves every day, patiently handing off their nest roles each morning and evening, cooperatively raising a little one—unsuccessfully, sadly—and pecking around for seeds and nesting material on the ground. (You can see many, many pics of the doves, if you’re so inclined, over on @highlandparkdoves.) So far this year, they have not returned to nest again.

To my friends’ baffled disinterest, meanwhile, I have fallen head over heels for incredibly common birds—species like mourning doves (the greatest birds, my friends), house sparrows (so numerous, people treat them like pests), house finches, and California towhees (ugly little brown birds that act so strangely—or at least the ones living near our house do—that they are close to mourning doves in my level of obsession). More than once, following vaccination, I have sat with friends outside in our backyard absolutely losing my mind at how adorable all the towhees, sparrows, and mourning doves are as they fly in to get seeds and water, only to realize that everyone else is looking at me as if it’s finally time for this party to end…

In any case, the idea that my interest in unspectacular bird species might have something in common with my other interests, such as burglary, never really crossed my mind, to be honest, but I keep thinking about two recent stories I thought I’d post here briefly.

One was a minor post by Audobon about birds using shopping carts as cover for sneaking into grocery stores. “Birds,” we read, “have been known to linger in them like Greeks in the Trojan Horse.” You push a line of carts through the automatic doors, unaware of the little winged invaders hidden inside, and they quickly spread out, looking for rafters, food, and perhaps a cold Modelo or two.

The other is the allegedly true story of how Eurasian collared doves arrived in North America. The story goes that, back in the 1970s, a pet store somewhere in the Bahamas was burglarized and a few collared doves managed to escape; the owner subsequently freed the rest of his collared doves and, within a few years, they had made it across to Florida. Forty years later, Eurasian collared doves are now found all over the United States—including here where I live in Los Angeles.

[Image: A Eurasian collared dove swoops in to say hello; photo by BLDGBLOG.]

A few weeks ago, my wife and I noticed the subtly different coo of a Eurasian collared dove coming from somewhere nearby in our neighborhood, a song that only got louder and louder—that is, closer and closer to our house—over the weeks to come. Then, just yesterday afternoon, a slightly lost-looking Eurasian collared dove landed in our backyard, hoping for seed. (Said curious bird appears in the image, above.) From escaped cousins in the Bahamas to Southern California—via burglary.

Tying everyday common bird species back to true crime is, I’m now hoping, a good way to get my friends—and you!—interested in these little beauties. Avian crime! Birds and burglary! In fact, it brings to mind Laurel Braitman’s great story about Echo, the parrot in a witness-protection program.

(Vaguely related further bird content: Acoustic Archaeology.)

12 thoughts on “Birds and Burglary”

  1. Great story about the collared doves. I spotted one here in the San Fernando Valley a few months ago for the first time. I knew they were different from the similar-looking mourning doves as they were significantly larger.

    I too spend much too long watching my “common” birds but I occasionally get a transient visitor including woodpeckers and a series of Cooper’s Hawks who loved our birdbath during the heat.

    My favorite is a windows-mounted hummingbird feeder that allows us to get “up close and personal” with them.

    1. Wow, you have hawks using your birdbath?! I would love to see that. Cooper’s hawks come through here, as well, more or less stalking the mourning doves, but lately ravens have established territory and chase the hawks away. The drama never ends, man. Mockingbirds are now moving in, getting in arguments with scrub jays. It’s like a ’90s sitcom.

      Anyway, thanks for putting out water and seeds!

  2. Mourning doves are excellent birds. One of my favorites. Their coo is so relaxing.

    My 5-year-old insists there must be afternoon and evening doves as well.

  3. Loving this addition of the Doves to the post(s)! More Mourning Dove integration? More than ever the interactions between all of the birds as they compete for food and space: Sparrows diving in on Finches, Doves strutting towards other birds, and Finches Doves and Sparrows being chased away by Hummingbirds.

  4. Was just telling a friend how one late spring-to-summer in Charlottesville Va. I ‘hosted’ a pair of Mourning Doves, who had built a nest on top of my in-window AC unit. Could hear them quarreling and cooing through the blinds, and occasionally I would peer in on their progress. Nest built, eggs appeared, mom roosted, then three chick-lets. Soon after they left for wilder environs, or so I imagine.

    I dared not turn on the unit (nor open the window) for fear of disturbing them. Needless to say, it was a sweltering few weeks, but I’ve never had a closer encounter with other beings, nor felt more of a partner in their parenting project.

    Worth a few sleepless nights, for certain.

    1. The doves have a weird, awkward tenderness to them (a tenderness that is admittedly betrayed a bit by their aggressive mate-seeking behavior) that makes their nesting activities adorable to watch. Thank you for letting them raise a roost!

  5. It’s easy to underestimate birds and bird watchers. My favorite example was in a 2019 Gizmodo post, “This Man Traveled 10,000 Miles to See America’s Trash Birds—and Loved Every Minute of It” about an Australian who came to the US to see a Metallica concert, Niagara Falls and the seagulls at a landfill in Alabama. Australia only has three types of seagulls. Needless to say, he saw lots of them in the US. I’m not quite as good at identifying them as he is, but I always respect them. They’re not afraid of anything, and there’s nothing they won’t eat.

    1. The pull of birds is really quite something. I’ve always loved folktales of how writing systems—letters, runes—were inspired by the footprints of birds.

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