Bird Watcher's General Store

Why Does Just Hang Out - 04/12/02


Dear Bird Folks,

Every day a small flock of mourning doves come to my birdbath but, instead of drinking, they sit looking out with their tails in the water. Why do they have their tails in the water and why aren't they drinking?

- June, E. Orleans

They are drinking, June,

Mourning doves are so often attacked by predators, they have developed a rather unique drinking style. The end of a dove's tail is hollow so it is able to suck up water like a straw. This way a dove can drink with its tail and keep its head up to look for danger. Just like quill pens can suck up ink, a dove's tail can suck up water. No June, I'm kidding. Doves do not drink with their tails. I was just trying to see if anyone was paying attention out there. Here is the truth about your doves. They are digesting. As boring as it seems, it's true. Doves, like many birds, swallow seeds whole and after an hour or so of eating, they sit and let their gizzards grind up the seeds.

Doves usually do things in flocks. They eat, drink and digest as a group. I'm sure that the water from your birdbath is helpful for the bird's digestion. And they are facing out to look for danger, but the fact that their tails are in the water is just a coincidence. I see doves resting in some pretty weird spots, but who are we to judge what makes a good spot for digesting. Most doves can't afford a couch or a La-Z-Boy recliner, so they have to come up with the next best thing. In this case it's your birdbath.

Hey June, maybe your doves are on to something. The next time you serve a big meal, have your guests sit around your birdbath after the meal. Who knows, some of your friends may like it, especially if they have a gizzard.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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