Friday, February 17, 2012

Dastardly Duos - From the Vermilion Vaults

We'll occasionally post articles from older Vermilion Flycatcher newsletters here on this Blog. There's lots of good reading hiding in the vaults! Check back soon for more!

Dastardly Duos: Ground Doves
By Larry Liese
Originally appeared: Dec 2002/Jan 2003 issue

As an early southeast Arizona birder, I routinely “checked my checklist” for common birds that I had not seen yet. I would study those birds and where they were (supposedly) found, then go out and try my luck. For the lister types among us, success here can be very satisfying.

Two months into my new hobby, I was birding the trails at the Sonoita Creek Preserve in Patagonia when I came around a corner on the Creek Trail, and there on the trail were these funny looking doves. My mind raced through that little algorithm of a new birder’s brain. Wait! I know I’ve seen this bird in the field guide! It’s one of those whatchamacallits that isn’t a MODO … OH! I know. A Common Ground-Dove. Ch-Ching! Life bird! I had been wondering why the “Common”Ground-Dove wasn’t appearing to be all that common!

Art by George West

Well, it gets harder than that as time goes on. For those of you who haven’t seen the rarer Ruddy Ground-Dove (Columbina talpacoti), fall and winter are the times we get a few sprinkled around. They associate with other doves, particularly Inca Doves. When found with the Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina), telling them apart can be somewhat tricky. The numbers of Commons are less in winter, so it pays to look closely at the ones you find this time of year. As their name implies, Ground-Doves are usually found foraging on the ground, though they frequently fly to a perch when flushed.

Ruddy Ground-Doves are a little bigger, but that won’t help much. Male Ruddys are a bright ruddy, almost orange color with a contrasting light gray head. Closer looks need to be had to distinguish the other three choices. Both male and female Ruddys have a dark bill; the Commons have a two-toned bill that is orange at the base. Commons also have scaly-looking feathers on the front third of their bodies. Both species have the short, squared-off tails characteristic of ground-doves, though the Ruddy’s is a little longer. Notice how long in proportion an Inca Dove’s tail is the next time you see one. In flight you might distinguish a female Ruddy by the much smaller white tail tip corners, though you can get in trouble with that field mark. Views of a perched Ruddy should show blackish “dots” on the wings that are purplish (m) or brown (f) in the Common Ground-Dove. If you’re really in tune with birds’ feathering, you’ll notice that the dots also appear on the scapulars of the Ruddys, above the wings. Also look at the tail color. The Common will have a tan or gray color, while the female Ruddy has a warmer brown color and the male a bright ruddy color. Your best bet will be to look for all of these traits on the Common Ground-Doves you see. Then the occasional Ruddy you run into will jump out as different.

Ready to try your luck? The Rare Bird Alert will give you hints on where to look. The Pinal Air Park Pecan Grove is a good spot, as well as the Patons’ in Patagonia. Good luck!

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