By: Karl Ricker
Date: April 11, 2003
The Whistler Bird Checklist lists three species of dove for this area: Band-tailed pigeon (a dove), Mourning Dove, and Rock Dove (the domestic pigeon). Of the three, the Band-tailed is infrequently seen high in conifer forests, but is more often heard with its haunting “Ku-Koo” call, which for the uninitiated, sounds like an owl. It is present all seasons of the year. A light colored band across its tail and a narrow white “collar” on the back of its neck make it easy to recognize despite its crow-like size and flight pattern.
The Mourning Dove is an interior species, residing as far north as Williams Lake-Jasper, but also found on southern Vancouver Island. There are a few localized spots in the central to northern interior as well as the Yukon. It prefers open bushy areas and the edges of urban civilization. It sports a long pointed tail fringed with white and black on each side. It’s dead easy to recognize when flying but may be more difficult when sitting with the tail obscured by a twig. Look for black spots on the side of its folded-up wings. It is listed as a very rare summer vagrant to Whistler and has not been seen for several years. Keep your eyes peeled.
The Rock Dove is our nemesis, seen almost everyday of the year at the Squamish downtown and dock areas, but rarely in summer in Whistler. If BC Rail was pulling grain cars, there would be more Rock Doves to view. The bottle depot at Nesters is your best chance of finding one. The color is variable, from very dark to very pale gray (rarely brown), with or without an iridescent green to purplish neck. Also, the base of the upper bill is white, and most “pigeons” have a white rump. Be careful, as many reported observations of rock doves have actually been band-tailed pigeons when verified.
The dove situation appears to be fairly simple, but there are new gremlins in the mix. The most recent list of BC Birds also reports vagrant occurrences of Oriental (or Ringed) Turtle-doves and White-winged Doves. The latter could easily be mistaken for a Mourning Dove, but has a white “trim” on the folding wing, rather than the black spots, and its tail is not pointed.
The Turtle-dove is an introduced species to the Los Angeles area but somehow it has had a visit to BC. It has a back-of-the-neck “collar” (except it’s black, rather than white) and it also has a tail feather with white on the end, especially at the corners. Its overall pale colors could make it easy to ID except for the possibility of a pale Rock Dove. In certain lighting conditions, it could also be thought to be a Band-tailed Pigeon.
The dove story takes a curious twist from here. On May 13, our club president was guiding a Victoria couple through the Emerald Forest, Mr. & Mrs. Cam Finlay, who were taking a day off from their Hummingbird banding program. Returning to Lorimer Road in the late afternoon, they spotted a russet brown “pigeon” sitting on the railway tracks, but it flew into the nearby woods, not to be seen again. Mrs. Finley saw distinctive white corners on its tail. Cam phoned me, asking if there were any reports of escaped domesticated doves. I said no, then opened my bird book quickly and said: “well, it must’ve been a brown Rock dove”. Cam asked me to have a look and next morning the dove was sitting on the tracks with its russet back to me. It turned its head to confirm the dove appearance, and then flew into the woods as I approached, flashing a brown underwing as it flew away.
I consulted the “Sibley Guide to Birds”, and a juvenile Spotted dove appeared to best fit what I had seen. I hastily called the birding hotline to report the identification. This got people at BC birding excited, and the mobilization began!
On May 16, cold and breezy, the first contingent arrived at the Lorimer Road cul-de-sac at 6am, headed by a crack birder from Chilliwack, Jason Osterhold. They patrolled the tracks for four hours before sighting the dove briefly by the River of Golden Dreams. It was smaller than I had guessed. It better matched the coloration of a Ruddy Ground-dove, known from southwestern USA and the coastlines of Mexico, and its call resembled the Common Ground-dove.
On May 17, the next contingent of birders arrived, several being the top gurus on the BC birding scene, including Rick Tootchin. The tracks were patrolled from 7:30am to 11:30am, with nary a sighing nor a peep from the dove (!), but they did identify some of the Dusky Flycatchers which have not been seen at Whistler over the past few years. So, are there species of Ground Dove new to BC? Keep your eyes and ears open when walking the valley trail, but don’t confuse the underwing of a flicker with a Ground dove!