Showing off

The snow didn't fool these birds -- they know it's spring! Alexandria, VA March 2015

The snow didn’t fool these birds — they know it’s spring! Alexandria, VA March 2015

“I’m lying in my room listening to the birds outside. I used to think they sang because they were happy. But then I learned on a nature show they’re really showing off.”
Jo Knowles

So much for our romantic anthropomorphism.  But for a bird, maybe showing off is a cheerful sort of thing to do.  It takes energy, and energy is not something that tends to go with being depressed.

A couple of days after our big 8-inch snowfall earlier this month, Jeff called me to the kitchen window to point out two birds sitting together on the branch of a tree in the woods behind our home.  Of course, I ran to get my camera.  As I watched them through the telephoto lens, I was curious about their repetitive motions.

“I think they’re preening,” Jeff said, but after a few moments he added, “or maybe that’s some sort of mating ritual.”

“I didn’t know birds engaged in mating rituals in the dead of winter.”

“It’s NOT the dead of winter, it’s SPRING!”

Ah, so it was — though it was an easy mistake to make, with the dirty snow at the end of our street piled in drifts almost as tall as me. But even if I had my doubts as to whether spring was here, you can bet the birds didn’t.  They were out there showing off, and we thoroughly enjoyed the show.

I did a bit of research, and this site about the Mourning Dove seems to indicate that what we saw may indeed have been some sort of bonding ritual.  But perhaps readers with more knowledge of birds can watch my (slightly shaky handheld) video and enlighten us:

Happy fourth day of spring!


  1. Good morning, Julia. ☕️ Don’t you just love sharing those “kitchen window” moments? I, too, have noticed Walter preening ALONE recently. They’re removing pin feathers that are new and covered in a waxy substance. His bird-keeper, Pam, (at the pet store) even commented Friday about his lack of pin feathers. She says the bird feels more comfortable once they’re preened. Loved the video! 💛😉

    • Sheila, I do love the kitchen window. Our home in CA had a sink that faced the family room, and I really missed having the window right over the sink. It’s a nice warm (or cool) place to enjoy the great outdoors without getting mosquito bites or icy wind in the face. Thanks for the info on birds. I figured there was some purpose to what they were doing, especially since they seemed so intent on it. Glad you enjoyed my video. I really needed a tripod there, but didn’t have time to grab one.

  2. Cherie

    SPRING IS HERE!!!!! I hope your day is a beautiful one. I love birds in the spring. All the mating rituals and nest building. All the different colored birds brighten my day. Thank you for reminding me to just look up and see joy. Have a beautiful day, Julia. I pray everyone is fine in your house. Love and Light

    • Hi Cherie, it is great to hear from you. Hope all is well with you and Ron. We are doing pretty well. I have been so happy to hear the birds singing just before daybreak these recent mornings. One morning a couple of weeks ago, as I was saying goodbye to Jeff as he left for work in the pre-dawn darkness, I was overjoyed to hear birdsong. It was instantly cheering and helped me wake up, something I’ve never been good at. 😀 I have been spotting a lot more cardinals this year. I love that bright red, but all the birds are beautiful to me. Hope you have a wonderful week.

  3. raynard

    Julia we no longer have a tree on front of our window. I wonder if my wife is still goingto put up the bird feeder.Dont say snow word too much if you really believe. A groundhog who use to announce the nightly lottery numbers lol.Went to NYC over the weekend to a surprise 86th birthday party for my uncle.Potholes on the NJ Turnpike and NYC highways were the only annoyance.A young man in my church offered to assist me in some minor replacement items on our van.Then we will be ready for a few cannonball runs. Thanks again for all you do here. Blessing to you and your family

    • Hi Raynard, I hope you do get that bird feeder put up eventually. I want to get a couple for our home in York, but I probably won’t get to it anytime soon. I won’t say the S**W word except to mention that they are calling for a few flake to blow around this week, but that doesn’t get me down because I know SPRING is HERE! I hope your Uncle’s party went well. 86 years is quite a milestone. We have some horrible potholes around here too, but it would be worse if we had to pay to drive on them like the NJ Turnpike! Good luck with your auto work. It’s great to have a friend who knows about such things. Hope you have a great week!

  4. MaryAnn

    What a delightful “spot” of spring! A few months ago, I witnessed an unusual encounter in my backyard. The scrub jays are the “bosses” around the bird feeder. All my other birds wait for them to leave or peck on the ground for falling seeds. I was surprised to see a scrub jay on the ground backing up from a dove. The dove’s feathers were standing up like a cat when it arches its back. The dove charged the scrub a few times. Then the scrub flew away while the dove ate some seeds. What a brave bird. It was a great show. Thanks for sharing the show you had in your backyard.

    • Mary Ann, I had never heard of a scrub jay, so I looked up some photos – WOW, what a beautiful bird! You are lucky to have them at your feeder. It’s funny to think of a dove being the challenger, since they are associated with peace — although those doves probably not the kind of dove you have. Who needs TV, with all the “live action” right outside our windows? 😀 Thanks for sharing your bird story, and for introducing me to the lovely scrub jay.

  5. Jack

    So I’m a oft-going, rarely-killing turkey hunter. The object is to imitate the hen, whispering sweet nothings (yelps, clucks and purrs) into the unsuspecting ear of the gobbler, whose usually excellent evasion skills are compromised by the prospect of some early morning lovin’. If the real thing is going on, once the gobbler makes eye contact with the hen, he struts and drums and puts on a show without equal in the animal kingdom, much like our dove friends are doing here. If he’s being hunted, BOOM!, the turkey is out of the gene pool and in someone’s turkey fryer.

    My dad told me when I was about 20 that had I been a turkey, I would have perished shortly after puberty. For that reason, I usually let the young ones walk away…it just isn’t fair.

    PS: BTW, it’s turkey season and so far, turkeys 3, Jack 0.

    • Jack, that “oft-going, rarely-killing” pattern seems common among hunters. We used to joke that Daddy only went deer hunting as an excuse to disappear into the woods for a few days. Since he was able to get a deer with a primitive bow, it couldn’t just be a skill deficit. He did admit to me that he sometimes chose to “let the deer walk” as you do with the turkeys. But maybe you should give them a good scare before you have mercy on them, otherwise it might be messing with the natural selection process 😀 . If you see an older turkey, it’s likely he’s a bit too smart to strut his stuff in front of a hunter. Turkeys 3, Jack 0 is a winning score in my book. I’m glad you were not born a turkey!

  6. Carlyle

    Although I have observed many dove activities I have never seen the flirting you filmed.

    • I had never seen anything like it, but I thought that might be simply because I haven’t done much bird watching. I got amused at Jeff who seemed convinced that the bird on the left was the female, because she was playing hard to get. 🙂

  7. Julia, you must know I’m loving today’s blog and to see Mr. Carlyle’s comment was such a “grand finale”! Somedays are just fun, aren’t they? I love Jeff’s observation. 👏 I hope y’all have gotten off to a great start for a new week. Love, Sheila

    • Thank you Sheila! I’m so glad you enjoy the comments as much as I do. I got your sweet card yesterday — thanks so much! Jeff and I hope to go to Mt. Airy sometime. That cafe looks like just our kind of place. I can almost see old Barney in one of the photos! Cyber tweets to Walter and hugs to you!

  8. That is so funny, that Jeff reminded you that it’s spring!
    I’m somewhat unconvinced myself, despite the sweater and coat sales going on! (Those marketing optimists!)
    I did see birds on Sunday for the first time that I recall, this year (although I once heard a chickadee last month).
    Even the maple sugaring is said to be behind a few weeks this year.
    But winter can’t hold on forever! (Can it?)

    • WOW, maple sugaring!! I’ve had romantic notions about it ever since reading Little House in the Big Woods when I was a young child. Maple sugar candy might be the best treat since chocolate. On a recent trip to New England I bought some maple sugar and I hate to admit it, but I ate most of it straight out of the bag (a little at a time, of course) because I didn’t want to lose its taste by “wasting” it in hot tea. It’s a good thing I don’t have any in the house or I’d be eating some of it right now. 😀 The birds are singing outside my kitchen window, and each morning they remind me to be of good cheer. Hope they will show up in increasing numbers in your corner of the world as the days pass into true springtime.

  9. Rene

    I was in 5th or 6th grade when I first learned about mourning doves in a book. Even at that age, I was struck by what I felt was the beautiful line of their heads & necks. We have a lot of them in the area we live in now, and I found it interesting that they are able to drink “brackish” water according to the website. It certainly helps to not be picky about your water in So Cal!

    • They do have a lovely delicate look, don’t they? I think their eyes are striking. Apparently they are pretty common, but I don’t remember seeing any until we lived here. They make great neighbors. 🙂

  10. Julia,
    That’s a pretty steady hand. They look like they’re sprucing up.
    I hear morning birds as well. Except that they are recorded predator sounds to keep the woodpeckers from knocking holes in our siding as they drum out their mating call.

    • Hey, that’s a great idea! We had woodpeckers do some damage to our trim on our York home several years ago, so now I always look for where the sound is coming from when I hear them outside. I love seeing them, but don’t like having to have those high areas repaired. It’s amazing how well their sounds carry. Sometimes one that sounds very close is actually near the back of our property. If they start pecking away at our trim again, I’ll have to investigate some bird “muzak” to use as a deterrent!

      • Julia,
        Simply go on line and ask for woodpecker sound deterrents. You should find it there. I did.

        • Alan, I did look it up, and it’s fascinating! I could actually listen to the sounds. Those hawks have interesting calls. I will remember this if the woodpeckers venture back to our house; for now, they stay in the wooded area, which is fine with me. Thanks for the tip!

  11. Julia, Slinky just tried to grab one of the birds in her mouth. Now she’s gone around to the back of my computer to try to figure out where they went. Isn’t that a scream?

    • Alys, that’s so funny! I wish I could have seen it. Please tell Slinky I wasn’t trying to fake her out. I’ve always wondered what animals think of our TVs and computers. I’ve heard people talk of having a dog or cat that watched TV, but Pasha was never interested unless he heard animal sounds coming from it, and then once he found out where the sounds were coming from, he lost interest. He was much more inclined to sit and stare out the back windows, watching the squirrels and occasionally BEGGING me to let him run after them.

      • I found a website for cats once with birds, just to try it out and Slinky really engaged with it. She doesn’t hear at all, so that is even more surprising.

        I’ll find the picture. It will make you smile.

        • Alys, I wonder if Slinky’s hearing impairment makes her super-sensitive to visual input? BTW, I think Slinky is a great name for a cat!

          • Thanks, Julia. It’s certainly possible. She seems to know when I’ve arrived home, based on smell but the poor thing startles so easily.

            She’s named after a story book character, a shiny black cat named Slinky Malinki. It suits her well.

            • Alys, I had never heard of those books, but I looked them up and they look wonderful! The pictures are great. I need to check them out at the library. I imagine it would be terribly hard on an animal to lose one of its senses. I’ve read some of what Temple Grandin wrote about the hypervigilance of animals, and how she understands them better because she has autism. Cats especially seem, to me, to be the “lurkers” of the animal world — more interested in surveillance than participation, much of the time. So the loss of one of the senses would be especially difficult for a cat, I think.

              • That’s a interesting way to look at it, Julia. I had a cat many years ago that lost an eye after being hit by what I think was a motorcycle. I thought he was done for, but the vet nursed him back to health, and he made a full recovery, living several years after that accident. He adapted so well to just one eye. It was amazing.

                Slinky lived ‘on the street’ before we rescued her, so I imagine that contributes to her nervousness as well. Lots to think about.

                I have a client first thing in the morning and I’m up way to late, but trying to catch up. You’ll be seeing our friend Boomdee tomorrow. Have fun!

                • Alys, your cat that recovered from the accident reminds me of the Siamese cat that lived next door to us when I was a kid. He was named Ilya (after the character in the TV show Man from Uncle) and he lost his front leg to a car accident. That cat learned to walk and even run on 3 legs. It was a great lesson for us to watch him. The ability to adapt to loss is one of the most important things we can learn, because all of us have to do that. If your cat could have spoken to you she might have a lot of wisdom to share about how to carry on.

                  • That’s a beautiful story, Julia, and great insight. How true it is.

                    • Thank you Alys. I am SO SO SO excited about seeing you face to face TOMORROW!!! I must be dreaming!! 😀

                    • xoxoxoxoxoox I can’t wait!

                    • WOW was that fun or what? How did the time pass so quickly? I am so glad we were able to be together!!!! Thanks for helping to make it happen (and for the fab dinner)!

                    • Julia, it was indeed. The time has gone by way too fast, and my time with you was gone in a flash.

                      Miss you already. Thanks for your hospitality, your warmth and for sharing your beautiful, deeply personal poetry and your wicked sense of humor. So much fun. xox

                    • Alys, I should be the one saying thanks – and WOW, what a colossal bag of treats you left for me! Though your time here was brief, I hope it will be only the first visit. I remember how very hard it was for me to get away when the kids were still in school, and I am honored that you would take your time off to visit us (thanks to your sweet family also, for sharing you with us). I miss all of you too, but the memories are lots of fun.

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