Everybody’s Talking About a New Bird Sound in Town

Everybody’s Talking About a New Bird Sound in Town

No, it’s not by an eagle, but we’ll paraphrase the chorus from the Eagles’ major song "New Kid in Town" to tee this off.

Over the past couple of years beginning in the spring and going well into the summer you may have noticed an unfamiliar loud and repetitive three-noted call that sounds like coo-COO….coo…….. coo-COO…coo. If you thought you hadn’t heard it before, you’d probably be right.  This is the call of Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) which are now well-established year-round residents of Ocracoke village. This bird has joined its cousin, the more familiar Mourning Dove which can be seen throughout the island.  Both species are easily viewable since they will perch on the power and telephone lines as well as on tops of trees. You can distinguish these two species fairly easily even without the use of binoculars. The Mourning Dove is more slender, a smaller head, and a long pointed tail with white outer tail feathers and a spot - not a collar - on its neck. In flight the Mourning Dove’s wings make a whistling sound when taking off. The Eurasian Collared Dove is bulkier - like a Mourning Dove on steroids – paler with a distinctive thin black line on the back of its neck.  When in flight, note how the tail is square and pale-colored, rather than pointed like the Mourning Dove. Visitors to Ocracoke may be surprised to learn that there are not any of the very common urban Rock Pigeons here. The Mourning Dove makes a series of pleasant soft coos that some have thought sound sad and from whence it gets its name. As much as I love listening to Mourning Doves, I find that the Eurasian Collared Dove’s incessant call can be a bit irritating.

How this bird arrived on Ocracoke is a bit of a mystery but is part of a centuries long world-wide expansion beginning in the 1600s. In our hemisphere, in the Bahamas there was a release of about 50 of these doves into the wild in the mid-1970s that resulted in nesting reports over the next several years throughout the West Indies and into Southern Florida then gradually throughout parts of the South. Good locations for spotting them in the village are Lighthouse/Loop Roads, especially at the entrance to Springer’s Point and - a bonus for us morning caffeine lovers - around the Ocracoke Coffee Shop on Back Rd. It is not unusual to also see them perched on the steeple of the United Methodist Church on School House Rd.

In North America Eurasian Collared Doves can usually be seen near human habitats that have suitable nesting and food resources, i.e. seeds including bird feeders. I have yet to see one of these birds outside of the village. If you do see one in an interesting location or over on Portsmouth Island, please let me know.

Getting back to how these doves made their way to Ocracoke; two plausible theories consistent with arrival in other locations are that someone brought a few onto the island, or more likely, they were blown in by a windy storm coming up from the South.

Since we started this with a reference to a popular song, let’s conclude on another cultural note with one of my favorite movie endings. It is "Havana" released in 1990 to unfortunately bad reviews and was a box office flop which may account for if you never have heard of it. It stars Robert Redford playing Jack Weil, a high stakes poker player, who got caught in the political intrigue of the 1959 New Year’s Cuban revolution due to an unexpected romance with a Cuban beauty played by Lena Olin. A Casa Blanca-style movie, it comes down for her to decide between love and revolution and she chooses the latter. Dejected, Jack heads back to the States. In the last scene which takes place a few years later, heading down from Miami, Jack visits Key West. Getting out of his car, he lights up a cigarette and looking south he launches into an incredible soliloquy and speculates that someday he may run into her again, wistfully concluding with what may equally apply to Ocracoke and the Eurasian Collared Dove: You never know who may show up. Somebody blown off course. This is hurricane country.

Comments powered by Disqus