Last year at exactly this time, we had two fledgling mourning doves living in our garden. This year, we had one. He or she became so comfortable with us that we could walk right past and call out, “Hi, Junior,” and it would acknowledge our presence without hopping away.
We could tell it was getting ready to spread its wings last week when it made it to the top of the garage roof.
Then, three days ago, William and I noticed that it was perched atop a telephone wire. We knew it was nearly ready to leave the safety of our garden. Sure enough, we couldn’t find “Junior” in our garden yesterday.
The parent-fledgling dynamic is fascinating, as I wrote last year: “A family of mourning doves – a mother, father, and two fledglings – have decided that our back garden is home. Seeing and hearing them delights us. We peek out windows to watch as the ‘children’ follow their parents around. Within a few days; however, we noticed that the fledglings had been left alone. The ‘juniors,’ as we call them, stay close to each other at all times. They choose favorite spots in our garden to spend time: in front of the small garage door where they so perfectly blend in to the concrete step that we look ahead lest we step on one, inside or on the ledge of a raised vegetable bed outside the schoolhouse, among the azalea bushes below Natalie’s bedroom window, and on our garage roof. A few times, we have watched with fascination when one of the parents has returned to check on them. It is heartwarming to watch the fledglings rush to their parent’s side and smother him or her with pecks. After one such vigorous greeting, we found a feather on the patio. A week went by without a visit from a parent, but the fledglings remained. A few days ago, Natalie noticed that they seemed to be doing wing exercises, stretching one and then the other as far as they could reach. Then they bent all of the way forward. Natalie thought it looked like they were doing their yoga poses. A couple of days later, William noticed only one fledgling in the garden. Yesterday, the second fledgling had left.”
This is exactly the behavior we observed with this year’s fledgling, whose stages of development we had researched after observing the first family last year: At six days, hatchlings are left alone for short periods of time. At around 15 days of age, they can fly but remain in the nest area. At 21 days, the fledglings’ feathers have come in completely, which allows for more efficient flying and exploring. Up until 27 days, fledgling tend to stay within 150 feet of the nest site and are usually fed by their father, who they greet enthusiastically as a means of identifying themselves to their father, who otherwise would have trouble identifying his own children. At 30 days, almost exactly two weeks later, fledglings leave the nest for good.
Last year at exactly this time, Natalie began her first year of high school after our two-year home-school adventure. It took a couple of weeks for her feathers to grow in. This year, she was excited to begin her second year of high school and found she could fly within two days. On the way home from school one day, we were talking about college and she said, “I don’t think I’ll want to go too far away for college. I know I’ll be ready to spread my wings, but I don’t think it’s necessary to spread them all the way all at once, do you? After all, going to college is just the first step in spreading one’s wings. There will be other chances to spread them wider.”
I smiled and nodded in agreement. “That’s a wonderful way to think about it. Little flights leading to big flights.”