Page 80

Animal of the Month: The Mourning Dove

Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Subphylum: Vertebrata Class: Aves Order: Columbiformes Family: Columbidae

by Kelly Hays Zenaida macroura, takes its common name, “mourning dove,” from its “woo-OO-oo-oooo” call that’s often described as plaintive or lonely. In reality, these birds are anything but. The call of the mourning dove should b e “ B o w - c h i c k a - w o w - w o w, ” because these birds are prolific maters, having babies up to six times a year. If nature had any decency, the rear ends of birds would all be pixelated because bird sex is hardcore. I don’t know about the bees, but when it comes to the birds, it’s all anal, all the time. Birds only have one opening, called a cloaca, through which all business transactions, from excretion to mating, are conducted. That makes this dove one serious back-door beaut. This satyriasis (in the males, nymphomania in the females) is necessary because mourning doves have such a high mortality rate. It hovers around fiftyeight percent per year for adult mourning doves and sixty-nine for youngins. From ferocious tabby cats to streak-free windows, there are a lot of things out there that can kill a bird. But only the mourning dove is gangster enough to list firearms as one of its leading causes of death. More than twenty million are shot annually in the U.S.—as much as all other migratory birds combined—making it more dangerous to be a mourning dove than an alter boy named Lindsay. I’ve even killed a mourning dove with a BB gun. It was my first “hunting” experience, if you can call it that. It’s one of those rites of passage that comes with growing up in the Deep South. At some point, Maw’s going to

78 / / / / / / / /

ask you to get your Red Ryder carbine action, and clear out the birds that are purloining her plum trees. At the ripe age of ten, I wore my gun outside my belt for all the honest birds to see, and went at it with gusto—pockmarking several targets before scoring a solid hit to knock one to the ground. But I wasn’t prepared for the nitty-gritty task of finishing the deed. BB guns are made for paper targets, soda cans, and snapping one off in your cousin’s ass when he gets smart and makes a crack about your flat, prepubescent chest. They are not well suited to ending bird life. I had to pump a handful of pellets directly into this bird’s skull before it would quit twitching. I actually ran out of ammo halfway through and had to stop to reload, which any grand jury will tell you, is one of the ways they discriminate between first and second-degree murder. I once read a story about a young hunter’s first experience hunting with an air rifle. His first kill—also a mourning dove—plagued him with such guilt that he wept, even as he stoically followed the hunter’s code—gutting and dressing the bird, then browning its breasts on Triscuits in a toaster oven. For him, the takeaway was that hunting was a powerful experience, and dove meat tasted delicious. For me, the takeaway was that I was a jerk for

out gunning for mockingbirds. They love them because they are chipper, spritely, and ostentatious with their singing, like a tiny, avian Celine Dion. Mockingbirds are the popular kids of the bird world, and people willingly ignore them when they engage in unprovoked air raids on the heads of innocent passersby who happen to get too close to their nests. On the other But I still feel pretty bad hand, all the mourning dove ever about how I killed that dove, does is get fat, have lots of babies, and even worse about not eating and cry a little, and it gets shot all it. Killing it made me feel like the time. Let the mourning dove be an the kind of schoolyard bully who beats on kids that ride the object lesson to you in this cruel short bus. Harper Lee missed world: Laugh and the world a grand opportunity when she laughs with you. Weep, and you consecrated the mockingbird as get shot, disemboweled, and her sacred symbol through which cooked on a Triscuit. to channel her exposition of human cruelty and compassion. She should’ve named her seminal novel “To Kill a Mourning Dove.” You see, not many people are slowly killing a sad bird that just wanted to get its grub on with some plums. Maybe it would’ve turned out differently if I had eaten my dove, but I didn’t. As it was, I repented and buried it in a tiny, shallow grave marked with a cross made of Daffodil grass. I then retired my BB gun from lethal pursuits for the remainder of its days.

Profile for Native

Native | February 2013 | Nashville, TN  

Featuring Nashville's Justin Townes Earle, Karoake Cab, Kangaroo Press, Poetry Sucks, Odessa Rose, The Stone Fox, No. 308, Chucklet and Hone...

Native | February 2013 | Nashville, TN  

Featuring Nashville's Justin Townes Earle, Karoake Cab, Kangaroo Press, Poetry Sucks, Odessa Rose, The Stone Fox, No. 308, Chucklet and Hone...