Photo Quiz #25 Answer
By Jim Burns
One of the birding joys of living in a metro area out west is the great variety of possibilities. If you have a weekend, you can get out to the high country and expect birds that just don't mix with people. If you have only a few hours, you can drive around town looking for SKPs that the influx of people has brought with it. And then there are always those introduced species that seem to gravitate to metro areas first for the same reasons we did - the living is easy. Our summer quiz spotlights a family of birds, Columdidae, which runs this continuum for "Wow, that is a cool bird" to "I ain't looking for no stinking exotics" to "Damn, we're being invaded again."
A) Good photo, easy bird
The most salient feature on our first quiz bird is the striking white collar. If we could start all over again and redo all our bird's common names, this would have to be a Collared Dove. But this is a white-collar bird, a "desirable" bird if you will, and the Eurasian Collared-Dove now sweeping our country has a black collar which somehow befits the dirty work it may be doing to our native species and their habitats.
Our quiz bird does share one field mark with Eurasian Collared- Dove-dark primaries contrasting with paler wing coverts-but the similarities end there. This bird is much darker overall, appears to have a patch of iridescence below its collar, and has an outstanding two-toned bill. Without the collar and that bill it might pass for a Feral Pigeon, but Rock Dove, variegated as they are, never have a complete and obvious collar and will show a white cere (bare skin covering the base of the upper mandible).
Of course we'd like to redo all those common names because we haven't quite reconciled with the fact that the physical trait for which many species are named is not very evident, either in the field or in good photographs. Check out the tail area of our quiz bird, above the fly and just to the right of the wing tips. That is neither shadow nor dirt, but the edge of the dark feathering which covers the entire upper half of the tail and contrast with the light band which is all we're seeing at the tail's tip. The banded aspect of the tail is most noticeable when this bird is in flight.
This Band-tailed Pigeon was photographed at Comfort Springs in the Huachuca Mountains in June, 1996, but Band-taileds can be found in the pine/oak habitat atop Mt. Ord in extreme northeast Maricopa County. They are the largest member of our dove family, swift of flight, handsome, and typically very shy. When you see band-taileds, you'll know you've escaped the city. "Wow, that's a cool bird."
B) Good photo, difficult bird
Here's a pale dove with a black collar. From our discussion this far this would seem like an easy bird identification, but if you've been following the Eurasian Collared-Dove's march across America in the literature and on the internet you know there is one problem. Eurasian Collared-Dove is very similar in size and appearance to Ringed Turtle-Dove, a bird of the same genus domesticated in Africa and brought to this country as a cage bird.
The latter species has been escaping its cages and living in the "wild" in southern California and south Florida since early in the twentieth century, but for reasons not fully understood the Ringed Turtle-Dove population have never exploded like that of the Eurasian Collared-Dove. Ringed Turtle-Dove has, in fact, recently declined in most areas, particularly south Florida where it may be losing habitat to its spectacularly more successful congener.
Though the Eurasian Collared-Dove is typically a plumper, darker bird than the delicate and very pale Ringed Turtle-Dove, this is largely indiscernible without the birds side by side, and there is some variation in color in both species. There are, however, three defining differences, two of them visible on our second quiz bird. First, though the sun-light is dappled, there appears to be no great contrast between the color of the primaries and the rest of this bird's wing and back, Secondly, this bird's undertail coverts are white, lighter than the rest of this bird's pale plumage.
Comparing these two features with those of our final quiz birds, the differences are noticeable. In our third photo we see decidedly darker primaries which greatly contrast with the rest of the bird's dorsal plumage, and gray undertail coverts which are decidedly darker than the rest of the bird's ventral plumage. The non-contrasting primaries and white undertail coverts of our second bird add to the overall delicate jizz of this Ringed Turtle-Dove, on of a pair found by Laurie Nessel at the Goldfield Recreation Area along the Salt River in November, 2001 and photographed there later that month.
We observed a pair of these beautiful doves in metro Phoenix as long ago as 1980 near the Papago Buttes, and we have occasionally seen pairs more recently along the Scottsdale Greenbelt, but because their population has not expanded and they are no longer "countable," Phoenix birders seem unaware of their presence or maybe they just don't car. "I ain't looking for no stinking exotics."
C) Bad photo, easy bird
If I could only photograph birds on wires from below, I'd rather drive a truck. Shooting up distorts perspective, underexposes the ventral features or overexposed the dorsal features, and renders sharp focus along the entire length of the bird difficult to achieve. That said, at least this scenario allowed the presentation here of the third and best diagnostic feature of Eurasian Collared-Dove. Notice that the outer webbing of the undertail is dark on this bird. Unfortunately I was not able to photograph the Goldfield Ringed Turtle-Doves from below to show the all-white outer tail characteristic of that species.
This Eurasian Collared-Dove was photographed in May, 2001. It is one of the birds discovered by Paul Lehman in Palo Verde, Arizona, west of Phoenix. This was either the second or third sighting in the state, but there have been several since then and you can be sure in a few years no one is going to have to look very hard to find these birds. Nor will they want to. "Damn, we're being invaded again."