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It’s ba-ack.

Last January, a Cooper’s hawk snatched our neighborhood feral African Collared Dove, “Hoover” off of the roof of my studio and ate him, then quickly left the vicinity.  It was sad, but we told ourselves at least Hoover’s nutritional content probably fueled the hawk’s migration back to its breeding grounds. Again, we were sad that Hoover was gone, but after all it is what doves are for — turning seeds into hawks.

This afternoon, I caught this adult Cooper’s hawk lurking on a limb of the African Sumac right off the back porch, apparently freshly back to the winter spa of our yard.  If I were given to anthropocentrism, I would say its expression was optimistic.  If I were accipitercentric, I would say it was recalling a fine al fresco lunch it had enjoyed at this establishment last season, and was checking to see if the fall menu had been posted.

<< Cooper’s hawk eyeing the snack bar (photo A.Shock)

Of course, I have absolutely no proof it’s the same bird.  But it’s not impossible. Given this bird’s proximity to the studio where it (allegedly) had had success previously finding a succulent snack, I would even say it’s not unlikely.  Especially since the huge mesquite tree that in the past has been the favorite perch of hunting Coops fell over this monsoon season.  Although part of it is still standing, it’s been reduced to two spindly branches, and offers little shelter for an optimistic snatcher of yard-birds at the feeders, who now might have to employ other vantage points.

So, maybe this is the same Cooper’s that returns to our yard each winter.  I hope so: it warms the pragmatic portion of my heart to think that Hoover’s cells have made it back here for another year, even if in a different, fiercer form.

Posted by Allison on Sep 20th 2012 | Filed in birds,Hoover the Dove,natural history,yard list | Comments (3)

Hoover’s hooves

It’s been a couple of months since the Cooper’s hawk (now long gone to its more northern, mountainous summer home) ate Hoover, the feral African Collared Dove who shared our garden.  I’m not mourning him — in fact I’m thankful that a proper wild hawk absorbed his nutrients and energy instead of a second-storey window or someone’s over-fed, bored housecat — but I do miss him still.  Cleaning up my computer desktop during yesterday’s stormy weather I uncovered one of my favorite photos of Hoover: a shot from below of the soles of his salmon-pink feet visible through the translucent plastic of the studio roof:

When I was working in there, he’d land with a thump and stomp to the edge to peer over to look for seeds, his rapid, trundling dove-steps clicking toenails all across the ridged panels.  I’m glad I wasn’t in there the day the Coop’s took him from this very perch — the view from below would have been grimmer than this cheery reminder of him.

Posted by Allison on Mar 19th 2012 | Filed in birds,Hoover the Dove,yard list | Comments (2)

In memorian Hoover

Hoover, the semi-tame feral African Collared Dove who frequented our yard, is no more.

I’ve been postponing the task of writing an obit for a couple of weeks, hoping that the white dove taken by the wintering Cooper’s hawk wasn’t Hoover.  But I can’t put it off: we no longer hear his soft, two-note cooing, and he doesn’t appear on the back porch to beg for a seed or two, perching on our palms to accept safflower, sunflower hearts, or millet, all the while his dark red eye making sure that we’re not up to something.  His habit of rapidly vacuuming up seeds earned him his nickname.  This habit of coming to the porch for handouts was also likely his demise: I saw the Cooper’s flash past the back door, and heard him strike the studio roof, where Hoover lurked hoping for a handout. Later, I found the sad pale feather pool in the back of the garden near the lemon tree, where the Coop’s had stood on the ground to pluck his prey.  The clear place on the left is where the hawk stood, leaving a “feather shadow”.  >>

In some ways it’s surprising that a non-native and bright-plumaged individual lasted in our predator-rich corner of the Phoenix area as long as he did.  The first photos we have of Hoover date from April 2005.  He’s been a part of our yard experience since then, mooching, alerting us to owls, courting and contributing his exotic genes to the local columbid gene pool. He would occasionally “help” me pack the truck for a sales event, walking into the garage to see what was up, and if there were seeds involved.

He was a cheerful presence, and we miss him.

For more photos, and to read more about Hoover and the small  (now nearly extirpated) population of African Collared doves in our neighborhood, click on the category “Hoover the Dove” in the left-hand sidebar.  (All photos A or E Shock)

Posted by Allison on Feb 7th 2012 | Filed in birds,close in,Hoover the Dove,yard list | Comments (4)

Hoover at Sea

Hoover the feral African collared dove has solved the problem of how to drink from the swimming pool: board the chlorine float.  The health ramifications of this (for the bird) may be dubious, but watching him neatly land on a floating, bobbing object with a smallish deck area is a thing to behold.  He fastidiously holds his tail up off the water, and bends over to drink, tipping the float steeply, but he still manages to hold on.

<< Hoover afloat (photo A.Shock)

We’ve seen other urban birds, most often Great-tailed grackles, a fearless, strong, and adaptable species, do the same thing.  They will also swoop low over the pool, and nimbly scoop meaty yummies like moths and beetles off the surface, risking becoming swamped if they make too much surface contact.  But we’ve never found a grackle in the pool, so it’s a successful foraging strategy for them.

Posted by Allison on May 2nd 2010 | Filed in birds,Hoover the Dove,natural history,yard list | Comments (1)

President’s Day: Hoover himself shows up

“Hoover” the semi-tame  African Collared Dove who inhabits our neighborhood came around for a handout of sunflower hearts and peanuts on Valentine’s Day.  It’s a bit of a sad story, in that he used to have a female companion, but no longer.  So far this spring he’s spent much of the day in plaintive calling — woooHOOOooo — over and over, as of yet to no avail.  There are others of his species living ferally in the area, but their numbers seem to be down from a few years ago.

So it seems appropriate to combine President’s Day with Valentine’s Day in wishing Hoover the best of luck this season of love and the executive branch in finding a feral girl-of-the-feather to hang with.

Posted by Allison on Feb 15th 2010 | Filed in birds,close in,Hoover the Dove,natural history,yard list | Comments (6)

Just a pretty

Here’s some eye-candy to bring in the new month: a Photoshop-edited photo of the Cooper’s hawk (who may have eaten Hoover) I posted about a few days ago >>

Sometimes what begins as a technically sub-standard photographic capture — like this image taken in difficult light through grimy double-paned glass, a bug screen, and security bars — can be salvaged with a little (or a lot!) of editing.  Don’t think of it as photography at all, because that’s only the starting point.  You can argue either way whether it’s art or not, but it is good illustration, because it clearly shows the tough-guy attitude these fierce smallish hawks emit: “Just keep stuffing down there below the feeders, you lot!  I will eat you, fat happy doves….  now or later, you are mine… and I will eat you.”

Posted by Allison on Oct 1st 2012 | Filed in art/clay,birds,close in,natural history,yard list | Comments (0)

Owl? What owl?

Yesterday an MLO (Medium Large Owl) emerged fresh from the kiln, all mute greens and golds, looking wind-blown and content.  I’d built this owl outside on the back porch, in a plein-air studio annex location during our in-between-not-too-hot-not-too-cold season, and I put it back outside to save indoor shelf space. Anything on the porch is considered Part of the Field by the local wildlife: the raccoons drink from the water bucket on my work table, the finches and doves and cactus wrens forage around it, and Hoover the hand-tamed African Collared Dove, perched on it, hoo-ing, as he had all through the construction process.

<< Hoover on MLO (all photos A.Shock, click to embiggen)

For him, landing on the clay owl’s head to cock his seed-beady eye at me and beg for safflower and peanuts is no different from landing on a branch or a chair-back to seed-schnorr.

So, the next time you’re tempted to try to “scare birds” from your roof or garden with one of those Plastic Owls, here’s your pin-up poster of how effective it will be: Not.

Still, Good Feathery Detail is its own virtue — this plastic Snowy Owl purchased here in Phoenix (and fully 100% guaranteed to be totally unrecognizable as a threat to desert birds) became ours simply on the strength of its shapely molding and piercing yellow eyes.  It stands impotently in our herb garden perfectly disregarded by greens-pecking quail hens and greedy-cheeked rock squirrels.  Still, despite slightly opaque corneas (UV causes cataracts, you know!), you can tell from its expression that it takes its job very seriously. And in fact, we never have had even one lemming in the garden yet.

By the way, the Medium Large “Windblown” Owl (18″, top photo) will be available (without dove) at the Three Star Owl booth at the Verde Valley Birding and Nature Festival at the end of the month.  It’s hand-built, glazed stoneware, one of a kind, and perfectly suited to deter pests (or not) in your garden or outside living space.  (The cheap plastic snowy owl effigy is not for sale, sorry; we fear too greatly potential inroads of the arctic vole here in Phoenix.  You can’t be too vigilant when it comes to inroads, or so our governor tells us.)

Passing on the shnorr-gene

Hoover, the semi-tame African Collared Dove who hangs out in our neighborhood, has been a bachelor for a while. But earlier this summer, we observed him in the company of a female dove who appeared to be a smallish Eurasian Collared Dove, a naturalized old world species that has become very numerous across the US. African Collared Doves are also non-native but less common; our Phoenix-area neighborhood just happens to sustain a small population probably descended from birds released in nearby Papago Park a couple decades ago.

We wondered if these two had something going on. We may have had our answer this morning, when Hoover showed up for his daily handout with Offspring. Darker than its parent, the young one was just starting to develop the black neck-ring that both of its parents have. The little dove didn’t fall very far from the branch; after some jostling, both birds settled in for a feed on E‘s outstretched hand.

The young one has the typical gangly, big-beaked look of an immature dove. (Photo A.Shock)

By the way, I don’t recommend hand-feeding wild birds. Hoover was initially hand-tamed by soft-hearted neighbors. We inherited the “responsibility” sort of accidentally, while caring for our neighbor’s yard a while ago, and have continued it out of the same soft-hearted impulse. Now the behavior seems to be being passed on to the next generation. Time will tell if the youngster will learn Hoover’s in-your-face-wheedling technique of zooming low over our heads whenever we’re outside and he’s in the mood for safflower seeds.

Posted by Allison on Aug 27th 2010 | Filed in birds,close in,Hoover the Dove,natural history,yard list | Comments (1)

And, speaking of owls…

… and we were — always — this Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) was giving us the eye from our big backyard pine tree, right at sunset tonight.  The Gila woodpeckers, doves, and local hummers — both Anna’s and Black-chinned — were really ticked off at the eminence tigre, and zoomed and hovered threateningly.  I’m unable to report if the owl even noticed.

The noise of the scolding yard birds, and the nervous upward glances of the “wild” African collared dove, Hoover, tipped us off.

<< Great horned owl (Photo A.Shock)

Hiding behind a shred of pine-bough seems to be a mere formality for the large owl.  It’s probably looking for another Desert cottontail, to follow up the one it helped itself to part of on the weekend, leaving the rest of the bunny for the resident raccoons.

Posted by Allison on Apr 20th 2010 | Filed in birds,close in,Hoover the Dove,natural history,owls,yard list | Comments (3)

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