This past weekend I traveled to Junction to see what might be hanging around the water features in the bird blind areas in South Llano River State Park. With temperatures in triple digits and not a cloud to be seen, birds are not drifting too far from a site to get a nice bath and cool drink of water. Northern Cardinals, Black-crested Titmice, Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, Lark and Black-throated sparrows, and White-winged Doves were the most visible. The cardinals were a scruffy looking bunch with juveniles going into their first molt and others doing their regular post-breeding season molt.
Did see one Black-capped Vireo at the Agarita bird blind located a couple hundred yards south of the park headquarters building. The vireo was very quick in getting a sip of water and disappearing. A female Summer Tanager took a long and unhurried bath causing me to be envious, and wishing I could join her. A few Painted Buntings were present but most were green females and juveniles; did see one beautiful male at another blind. I suspected that I had arrived a little late to see buntings, vireos, and other songbirds beat the heat and get their drinks and baths when the temperatures were slightly cooler.
While visiting another blind behind the camping area, a pair of Common Ground Doves came in for a drink and provided excellent photo opportunities (see attached photo). Common Ground Doves and close relatives, the Inca Dove, are often called “Mexican” doves. Both species are smaller versions of our other common doves, but easily differentiated and identified. The Common Ground Doves have scaly appearing heads and breasts and short black tails with outer white edging. Inca Doves have scaly to scapular marking on much of their plumage and long black tails with white edging.
Both have rufous colored primary wing feathers which are most evident in flight as are their different tail lengths. Both species have reddish orange eyes. The male Common Ground Doves have light scaling on their breasts and pink colorations; the female’s breast is darker scaled than the mate’s breast. The base of the male’s bill is pink and the female’s black. Their wings are grayish brown with black, comma-like spots; spots are missing on the Inca Doves.
Common Ground Doves have a monotonous series of calls – “coo-oo, coo-oo, coo-oo” that rise at the end. The Inca Dove’s call is a very distinctive, two-syllable, “no-hope, no-hope.” Even though these two dove species are only half the size of their larger relative, the Mourning Dove, their voice volume is roughly similar.
The Common Ground Dove’s range is split into three areas of our country. One population lives in Florida and surrounding southeastern states, one in South and Central Texas and the third along the southern edges of New Mexico to California. Their distribution is sporadic in the Hill Country, as they prefer the drier, open brush country near farms. Not as common in cities as the Inca Doves, Common Ground Doves are fairly populated around the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and around the Junction area. One is likely to hear them calling before seeing them.
As their name implies they spend much of their time on the ground. They tend to walk with a strut-like gate with their heads bobbing. Often in the breeding season, the males will cock their tails, fluff their neck feathers and pretend they are the cocks-of-the-woods. If you are not familiar with these diminutive doves, you have missed a treat. They are permanent residents, so be aware that they are here all year; listen for them.