Jan 11 2010

Cold Feet

Published by at 7:08 am under Doves & Chickens,Weather & Sky

Mourning Dove (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)
Yesterday a mourning dove arrived at my feeder with a clenched foot, probably suffering from frostbite.  The temperature was 9oF when I saw him.  It had been 2o at dawn.

Even in severe cold weather we rarely see birds with frostbitten feet so we tend to forget that it’s possible.  Gulls and Canada geese stand on ice, cardinals and chickadees hop on snow, and we take for granted that their bare feet won’t be hurt as ours would be. 

For most birds this is because of a very special adaption that allows their feet to be cold in comfort.  Birds’ feet have fewer nerves and blood vessels and a unique circulatory system.  The veins and arteries in their legs are intertwined so that cold blood leaving their feet is warmed by the arteries delivering warm blood.  As Dr. Tony Bledsoe pointed out, “This operates as a counter-current exchange system, so that nearly all of the warmth in the descending blood is transferred to the ascending blood.”  

For some reason this system isn’t as effective in mourning doves and their feet are prone to freezing.  Since they’re a game bird (did you know they’re hunted in 38 states?) they’ve been studied extensively.  In one study, mourning doves with frostbitten feet were rescued.  They recovered from their injuries in six weeks but their damaged toes fell off.  They survived to a normal life span with fewer toes, but life is short for a mourning dove anyway.  Their average adult life expectancy is only one year. 

I felt bad for the bird at my feeder but I know that if he has enough to eat he’ll survive.  The real killer right now is lack of food and since mourning doves eat from the ground their food is repeatedly covered by snowfall. 

I’ll keep my feeders filled and hope for the best.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Cold Feet”

  1. Marge V.on 11 Jan 2010 at 10:26 am

    I didn’t know that the life expectancy of mourning doves is only 1 year? There seem to be so many of them I guess a lot of the time I think every year the same ones come back but perhaps not…I think this winter’s been hard on quite a few of our feathered friends. Yesterday there were 2 Canada geese sitting mostly down at the end of my yard (which borders a farmfield in which lots of geese and wild turkeys roam) and my son pointed out to me that through the binoculars it looked as if one had a broken wing or a wing frozen to its side. The other was probably the mate staying closeby for comfort. I place apple halves, corncobs, and carrots down there against the trees for the deer and turkeys and crows, so that was consumed quite rapidly by those 2 geese. I was going to try and help it out (wrap a warm towel around it) but when I tried to approach it they both made lots of noise and tried to leave, so I felt maybe it best to just wait longer and see. Today they aren’t there but most of the geese are on the river’s edge (where this one perhaps fell asleep too long) and haven’t seen any “bodies” laying around. Interesting about the doves, thanks…

  2. Kate St. Johnon 11 Jan 2010 at 11:24 am

    Mourning doves can live up to (I think) 10 years in the wild – they just don’t. Amazingly 50-70% of their population dies every year but they make up for it by being very prolific.

  3. Dianeon 11 Jan 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Have you read about the pelican flock in Maryland that has suffered from frostbite and starvation? Most of them have finally been captured and are being rehabilitated at TriStateBird Rescue in Newark, Delaware.

  4. Kristenon 11 Jan 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Well I’ll be darned. Now I know why so many of the mourning doves I see are missing toes. Poor birdies!

  5. Kate St. Johnon 11 Jan 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Diane, no I hadn’t heard about the pelican flock. Kudos to Tri-State for taking this on!

  6. Eileenon 16 Jan 2010 at 6:59 am

    Great post and cute photo of the Mourning Dove.

  7. Tracion 08 Jul 2010 at 8:40 am

    This morning I was up with the sun, outside watering my garden. I was treated to one of the most gentle, beautiful sights I have experienced thus far this Summer. Two baby morning doves emerged from my pine tree, with Mom close at hand and fledged before my very eyes! Morning Doves seem to be very social. The two siblings flew to the ground and when one would wander off to explore – the other was close to follow. Mom flew to the bird bath and they flew up to join her. Mom flew to the clothesline, they tried to follow her. One made it to the fence, one missed and landed in my strawberry patch. It was like a game, Mom would go somewhere and they would follow.
    They eventually ended up under the sunflowers, against the fence. I needed to water and I didn’t like that they were cornered there (without knowign they were, they were happily pecking away) because of my dogs and cats in the neighborhood. So I sprayed water near them and they flew in a flurry to the clotheline and garden gate. Mom was up on the telephone line watching with her head cocked at me. Other adults joined the parent on the line and they all seemed to be watching ME and not the offspring ..

    Eventually the babies flew to the neighbors yard, then away. I don’t know if they’ll be back or not.

    It was beautiful. Morning Doves are one of my favorite urban birds. Such beautiful, gentle things. I feel privledged to have seen their first flights.

  8. Janeton 09 Feb 2011 at 7:08 pm

    My husband found a morning dove stuck in his birdfeeder ! I had a really hard time getting him out . He has severe frost bite to one of his feet ! I am currently trying to find a place to let me know if his foot will need to be removed before he is released into the wild. I would love any advice that you can offer to me! This is only day two and otherwise he is doing great.

  9. Kate St. Johnon 09 Feb 2011 at 8:33 pm

    Take the bird to a wildlife rehabilitator that treats birds & they will know what to do about the mourning dove’s foot. If you live in the Pittsburgh area I highly recommend the ARL Wildlife Rehabilitation Center at 6900 Verona Road, Verona, PA 15147. Phone: 412-793-6900

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