Country diary: collared doves cosy up for a summer fling

At the songless end of summer, a bird was playing trumpet down my chimney. A clatter of claws on the tiles, a count to three, then “cu coo-cu” came echoing out of the fireplace.

The next morning, and every morning thereafter, collared doves were back on the rooftops, trading coos with woodpigeons. It was a dawn chorus made for two, for no other bird in early August has any reason to challenge their monotonous aural supremacy. And the doves had regained their spring wings, fired up to flirt, court and mate. As the sun climbed in the sky, so too did the doves, making swooping display flights, wings fanned out, plumage pale October grey against remorseless blue.

A pair of doves found themselves a mid-morning platform for canoodling, the sloping lid of a starling nest box under the eaves, where they wedged themselves together. The male launched into a lusty summons to the faraway female squatting right by his side.

Standing behind the veil of the net curtain at my window, less than a metre away, I could hear subtleties of timbre and pitch in his simple three-note song. The second note took on a sandpapery rasp halfway through, the final note caught as a sharp intake of breath. I watched his female give chicken-like thrusts of her head to the north, south and east, as if jerking to his “cu coo-cu” beat, or thinking about how to escape the din.

After three mornings of cosying up, the male’s song changed. It was apt to descend, the strident, straining first “cu” sinking four or five notes lower. Now the pair began billing instead of cooing, rubbing neck to neck and touching beaks with slow tenderness. The male started to ferret into her feathers, trying to get around her and mount, but she held her rear end over the edge of the box, proving that gravity was the best form of contraception. Each encounter ended with one of the pair launching off in an audible whirr of wings and the other flying in pursuit.

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On the last day, the male brought presents. Four sticks still sit on the lid of the box, a nest that was not to be.



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