Birding with Pompie – Doves and Pigeons

Proud to be
June 2, 2016
Take a break on the road between Rundu and Katima
June 7, 2016
Proud to be
June 2, 2016
Take a break on the road between Rundu and Katima
June 7, 2016

Text and photographs Pompie Burger | Main photo: African Green Pigeon

One should always be suspicious of fishermen and pigeon farmers -Dad-

H earing doves, probably African Mourning Doves (Streptopelia decipiens), sing always makes me sad. It takes me back to my youth, when I attended a funeral on a cold winter’s day in the Bethal district on a farm in Mpumalanga, leaving me with a feeling of melancholy. When I visited my dad two years ago a few weeks before he passed away, I was amazed how many doves still stay there in the oak trees that Oom Fred Smit planted way back in the early 1950s along all the sidewalks of our town. Now these massive trees are still part and parcel of Bethal, and I think Oom Fred will be over the moon to see his trees still standing, hosting hundreds of happy doves.

The first (and the last) bird I ever shot with a catapult was a dove. It will probably not make me a hunter in the true sense of the word, but thinking back to that day I somehow still feel guilty. The main reason why I stopped “hunting” at that stage was probably not so much a “green” decision, but rather my lack of shooting skills. With my talent it was probably the only bird I would have been able to shoot, seeing that doves aren’t that nimble. This then is a tribute to my dad, that dove, and Oom Fred.

To be quite frank, my first encounter with birds was not the dove I shot, but my brother Brink’s Tumblers and Fantails. At this stage I must mention that Bethal is not the epicentre of the ornithological world, so I should be forgiven for not knowing more about the fascinating world of birds, apart from doves. For example, it was only recently that I came to realize that there are doves and pigeons, but apparently this is only a matter of colloquialism, with doves being small and pigeons big. This sounds very scientific to me in any case.

The African Mourning Dove has a red ring around its yellow eye, which distinguishes it from the Red-eyed Dove.
A Namaqua Dove admires the elegant butterflies flitting away.
African Green Pigeons (Papegaaiduif), the love birds of the pigeons.

The biblical reputation of doves by far exceeds their elegance and intellect. From the word ‘go’ doves were involved in saving Noah’s squad, right up to the end where the Holy Ghost came down to earth in the form of a dove. Although they exceed all other birds in the bible as far as reputation is concerned, one unfortunately has to mention that they are not in the top twenty as far as elegance (they should really work on their landing and take-off technique), beauty (apart from the African Green Pigeon (Treron calvus) there is not much to get excited about) and intelligence (small heads, small brains) are concerned. There is a definite decline in their status and their contribution to mankind/birdkind in the modern era compared to their importance in biblical times. One might also mention that they are probably the most sexually active birds on earth, so full marks for their reproductive abilities as well as their high success rate in the process.

An Emerald Spotted Dove flaunting his beautiful dots.
Cape Turtle Doves show off their landing skills.
A Specked Pigeon with its snake-like eye spotted at the Spitzkoppe. They are often seen within city limits too.

There are over 255 dove/pigeon species worldwide, found in most parts of the world except in the polar regions and some oceanic islands. In southern Africa there are 15 species of which Namibia supports nine. As one would expect, the most diverse (and most good-looking) groups are found in the Zambezi region: the African Green Pigeon, the Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), the African Mourning Dove, the Cape Turtle (Streptopeli) and Namaqua Dove (Oena capensis). Not to be outdone, there is a relative good representation of doves in the arid western parts of Namibia, namely the Laughing, Cape-turtle, Rock and Namaqua doves and the Speckled Pigeon (Columba guinea). Most of these also occur throughout Namibia.

Doves and pigeons have adapted quite well to the good life in cities and towns. The Laughing Dove is probably the best adapted, with the Speckled Pigeon and the Cape turtle Dove also well represented. For some reason the Namaqua Dove and the Emerald Spotted Dove are not that common in the urban areas. As far as garden birds are concerned, the Laughing Doves are my favourite visitors. Apart from eating all the seed from my feeder, they do attract a lot of raptors which are in turn a more than welcome variety in the bouquet of visitors to our garden. In addition to Rock Kestrels (Falco rupicolus) we had visits by a Gabar Goshawk (Melierax gabar) and a Little Sparrow Hawk (Accipiter minullus). These raptors must have had good reminiscences of our garden, with a very high strike rate success on my defenseless doves. I must mention that they are in very good company with the neighbour’s cat as far as effectiveness is concerned. The good news is that our two Corgis’ strike rate is less than zero. In fact I suspect that the chances of one of the Speckled Doves catching one of the Corgis are probably higher than the other way round. Unfortunately they are rather awkward when landing on the feeder (the doves not the Corgis), usually scattering all the seeds on the ground and sometimes even a few Blue Waxbills.

My least favourite is the Rock /Feral Pigeon (Columba livia) which was spread worldwide and has adapted quite well in the cities and towns of Namibia. These pigeons seem to occur mostly in the streets in the middle of town, picking up pieces of Steers and Kentucky leftovers (one wonders if they know this could have been family).The last and probably the most important dove is the clay dove, a very well-known species in Namibia. They are important because they satisfy the bloodthirsty gunners’/shooters’/killers’ never-ending lust for killing without actually reducing our avian population in the process.

One cannot end this without mentioning the other main claim to fame of this group of birds. They are known to be used during various wars as important messengers who saved thousands of lives. In the same way they have been used by smugglers transporting diamonds, also saving a lot of guys from financial disaster. Indeed there are 86 dove statues in the world, commemorating their contribution to making the world a better place. The only dove farmer I know is André Olivier (he does not wear white socks), so my dad was not 100% spot-on with his diagnosis. Two other famous dovers are Bles Bridges and Mike Tyson, needless to say, no comment.

Beware of people who hunt birds and wear white socks -Son-

Laughing Doves looking rather serious.
A male Namaqua Dove overshadowing its female counterpart in the background.
The Red-eyed Dove has a red ring around its brown eye.
This article was first published in the Winter 2016 issue of Travel News Namibia.

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