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Wild Thing: White Wings

The ubiquitous dove regurgitates to feed its young and uses its beak like a straw.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Hang up a bird feeder stocked with black sunflower seeds, and what shows up? Most likely hungry white-winged doves (Zenaida asiatica).

Historically, the doves occurred in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and farther south. Their numbers diminished after the 1920s as farmers cleared more and more brush – their nesting habitat – to make way for crops. Adaptive in nature, white-winged doves instead nested in citrus orchards. Severe freezes, though, destroyed many of those from the 1950s into the '80s.

So what's a bird to do? Relocate! In the last 20 years or so, whitewings – named for the distinctive white band that outlines their folded wings – have moved into Central Texas and as far north as Dalhart. They favor towns and cities, where bird feeders and water sources abound. These hearty eaters can devour up to 11 percent of their body weight in berries, acorns, fruit and grain per day, according to The Behavior of Texas Birds.

After mating in the spring, white-winged couples share parental duties. He brings twigs and grass, which she uses to build a flimsy nest in tree branches. Sometimes, she moves into an abandoned nest. Both incubate the eggs (usually two), and both regurgitate "crop milk" (secreted from the lining of an adult dove's crop) to the new hatchlings. (Pigeons, flamingos and emperor penguins also produce a similar protein-rich substance to feed their young.)

In Texas, dove hunters inject more than $200 million into the economy each fall. About a fourth of the 4.5 million doves annually harvested are whitewings; the rest are mourning and white-tipped doves.

Cool fact: Most birds take a drink and tilt their head back to swallow. Doves use their bills like a straw – no head bobbing needed.

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