Today I’m sad, so sad. And angry – angry at the cruelty of nature, angry at myself for not knowing more and angry at ignorant people who think they know what they clearly don’t. I thought my newly designed loft access was an improvement that would keep my doves dryer and more comfortable this winter, as well as be secure from predators. But a predator got in, and today I’ve been cradling and comforting one of my beautiful birds, as I check out her wounds and remove her dead baby.
Tell the happy stories people say, and I do – there are lots of them. I’m so very proud of the joy my doves bring to so many people: lifting their grief as they say their goodbyes; anchoring their hope for the future; connecting them with a life we barely understand but hold in awe as they rise and circle free. I love my doves and caring for them is a privilege. I don’t mind clearing up their pooh – and there’s a lot of it – and I love that it composts down and provides the best fertilizer for my garden. We have our own little eco-system going here.
I love watching their loyalty to one another, sharing the task of keeping their eggs warm and raising their young babies. I love watching the babies grow from tiny, scrawny little bundles of skin and yellow fluff with bulbous eyes and over-large beaks, into graceful, pure white adult birds. I ring them and name them. I stroke and cuddle them as they grow. I watch them feed, first from their parents, then scrabbling in the feeder with the others, flapping and arguing to claim best position.
I don’t attempt to tame them individually. They are flock birds and need to learn from the flock. They aren’t pets. They are wild birds, and I respect that. They fly free every day and without me they’d find their own way quite happily. I know that. By providing food, fresh water and shelter for them I make their lives easier, and statistically it’s been shown, allow them to live healthier, longer lives.
Until that is, their loft is invaded by a predator. Was it a fox or a cat? I don’t know and they can’t tell me. Both can be wiley and merciless killers.
And they’re not the only ones. Ecologists are celebrating the fact peregrine falcons, from being extinct and re-introduced, are making a strong come back on the South Downs. This is good, they are lovely birds, the fastest creature on the planet, reaching 250 mph in a dive. Our doves, happily using their God given talent and heading home at a comfortable 70mph, usually don’t know what’s hit them when they get taken out. It happens rarely but we mourn when they don’t get back. The week before last we had one wrestle free from a peregrine’s clutches and although terminally injured, made it back before it collapsed by the loft. Laura found and made him as comfortable as possible before crying for him as she watched him die.
Nature’s cruel. The day he died a peregrine and her babies went hungry.
Today my flock will spend their 2nd day on the roof of my house, too frightened to return to their loft which now houses four hungry babies and one shaken and injured parent bird. All sit sad and silent.
The day before yesterday I got so angry when I read a post on Facebook, supposedly written by someone who knew about dove release companies. Doves are suffering because of us, they said. Getting lost and starving because we use birds that can’t home. They are uncared for and we owners are greedy, selfish and exploit them. Once again the photo of the dove being struck by a raven at the Vatican when the Pope released it years ago is given as proof that people like me are heartless – mercenary, greedy money-makers one woman commented. I’ve never met her, and I don’t suppose she’s ever met anyone like me – a dove owner. A dove lover. If past experience is anything to go by, she wouldn’t want too. The knowledge she professes to have makes her far superior to me and she wouldn’t waste her valuable time accepting my invitation to come and meet us, and maybe learn a little.
I would agree with her though because she’s right, there are unscrupulous people out there who don’t care for animals or birds, probably don’t care for humans either. You can buy doves from them on the internet and it is terribly sad that people don’t do due diligence and make sure they go to reputable companies, just as it’s sad people buy puppies from puppy farms and keep this awful trade going. Why do that? Is it so hard to check out reputable breeders?
Our doves grow up in a routine: in exchange for a safe haven to shelter and raise their young, regular nutritious food and fresh water, the best of care and loads of love, they serve us by sitting in a basket from time to time, being held by people who channel love to them, and then doing what they love – tuning into the electro-magnetic field around the earth and finding their way back home again. Because they like it here.
Or at least they did, until a predator got into their loft, killing and injuring and frightening them witless. Today I start the job of re-building trust, with my beautiful doves by finding a way to secure their home, and with you, my reader, by letting you know it’s not all sunshine and happy days here. Sharing their world can be hard. I’d no more give it up though than you would walk away from your dog or cat because there’s an outside chance they could get run over. Instead, like you, I’ll do my utmost to keep them safe and offer them the best care possible.
Please pass that message on to anyone you come across who believes they know better.
FOOTNOTE 5 days later: It is life as usual in the dove shed, all doves have returned and the injured bird is making a strong recovery. It was a cat attack, and alterations have been made to ensure it can’t get in again. 🙂