I constantly have to remind myself that the doves in my forest are wild birds, because of the extraordinary contrast every day between what they are and the way many of them behave.
And as I wrote this paragraph on the last day of 2012, RedFeet was behind me on the cover of my Yamaha keyboard, contentedly pecking at bits of food. A wild bird! She is another very tame one. And clever. She comes and knocks at the door with wings, beak or body when she is hungry, squeezes in as soon as I open it, and when she has had enough goes and stands by the door to be let out, and again squeezes through when the opening is only just wide enough. If I don't notice that she wants to go out she flies to my desk to get my attention.
RedFeet, like all these doves, loves cheese, (as do all the blackbirds in my forest). And she demands it. 'More, more!' she says behind me, and I know she means cheese and that she will not stop saying it over and over again, like an angelic Olivia Twist, until she gets it. And that is exactly what it sounds like: 'More!' in ever more urgent contralto tones, so I fill my hand with little cubes of Colby cheese, stretch it out and she flits
on to it to eat her fill. When BigFeet2 says 'More!' he means kibbled grain first and cheese afterwards, but RedFeet means 'Cheese! Now!'
Most of the names I have given them are to do with their feet, because that is the best way of telling them apart--often the only way--and makes their names easyt to remember. RedFeet has feet that are noticeably redder than the rest. Most of the flight have pink feet, ranging from a rather pale pink up to medium. She also has wider circlets than the rest (the flesh round a bird's eye is called the circlet). In doves it is sometimes grey, sometimes pinkish, sometimes a blend of the two colours. RedFeet's circlets are the widest of the flight, so much so that she always looks wide-eyed. WideEyes could have been her name. LightFeet was given her name after I had named BigFeet2, and was called that because in contrast to him she has lightly-feathered feet and legs.
Her mate is bossy DarkFeet, so named because his feet are a darkish red. He is the biggest bird in the flight, and by far the biggest eater. He could eat the rest under the table. He often comes inside too, frequently with BigFeet2, who is regularly the first to come inside in the mornings. (He was given that name because he was the second dove to be born here who had such well-feathered feet that it made them look big--and beautiful.)
Clever BigFeet2's morning visits have become very regular. I go out, feed the flight, and usually when I come back to my door to find him waiting to come in, because he knows that his favourite food will be on the Yamaha cover (the grain part of toasted muesli). He eats, asks for more, or flits to my desk and gazes hopefully at me with his beautiful eyes, until he has had enough. Then he settles down on the Yamaha cover for an hour or two for a digesting snooze and a grooming session, and/or flies up to a higher place in my office and does the same.
My doveish days begin with the flight either waiting outside my door or descending from the tall trees to be fed as soon as I emerge. To have about twenty doves flying down to you is always a special moment. Mrs Friendly 1 (because she was the first to fly to my hand when the first eight doves came here about three years ago), whose name later became abbreviated to F1, perches on my left hand, the one holding the crusts, so that she will get more than the others as I tear off bits for the flight gathered round me. BigFeet2 perches on my knee so that he will get more too, but far enough from F1 so that she will not be able to squabble with him. When he was younger and had not quite perfected flying to my knee he would fly to my left shoulder and slither down to my knee with wings beating.
Of course many of the adult birds were eating for more than just hemselves earlier in the season. Like other members of the pigeon family they feed their young on 'pigeon-milk,' which looks rather like thin grey porridge. I am sure that one pair had three chicks, because there are three chicks that like to keep together, so that would have kept their parents very busy--and very thin--because young doves are usually quite big and well-fledged before they come down and start to discover how to eat for themselves.
I am intrigued at their different personalities. I took biology at school and zoology at university, but I had always thought of birds as birds. Pretty much all the same. But they are not. They each have their own ways and habits, their own characters. I had had very little to do with animals before the blackbirds and doves came to me because I dislike household pets of any sort. I loathe dogs, and cats only annoy me (especially
when the odd stray tries to get at these doves--and is very soon seen off, at speed). 'Over-rated' and very unnatural is my summary of the entire dog-cat domestic regime. But wild animals, doing what they do out in the natural world, being themselves, but sometimes choosing to become a little tame, is perfect. They stay wild. Even LightFeet is still a wild bird. I am just part of her wilderness. Wild me and wild her.
There used to be a female blackbird that fed from my hand for many years after I managed to tame her sufficiently with Colby cheese, and she brought many clutches of chicks to me over the years, who also became quite tame. I read up on blackbirds and learned that they can live for about twenty-five years, but she must have died because she hasn't been here for well over a year, and although they mate for life her mate has had another mate for about that long. She was my Mrs Friendly in the blackbirds, and she deserved the name because she would often stand a short distance from my hand for a very long time after she had eaten. She obviously liked being there. She would sometimes put one foot on my fingertip when she was feeding.
Now her descendants scoot round the doves, nervously grabbing what they can, because doves are bigger and more numerous and move towards them when they think 'their' food is in danger of vanishing down a blackbird's throat.