View from the Garden: Dreaming of Doves and Butterflies

Garden Mourning Dove Fledge
Garden Mourning Dove Fledge. Photo credit: Terry Sullivan

Mourning doves are my favorite bird. Their soft cooing reminds me of summers in my grandmother’s backyard where my sisters and I sucked the tiny drops of nectar from individual phlox flowers during sweltering Nebraska summers. This was an infrequent respite from the seemingly endless canning and freezing work that I thought was the reason for summer when I was a girl.

My husband and I bought our Sag Harbor house in 1991. I began the garden I had been planning for years and was out there working in it all the time. One day, I noticed a mourning dove walking across the yard. It did not fly away as I approached and I thought it might be injured. I went to my neighbor, an older man who knew everything and told him about the bird. He said, “Call the police.” I replied, “Call the police?” And he insisted, “Call the police.” I always did what this wise man told me to do (or else I would have been in trouble with him) and called the police. I explained the situation to the officer and he said, “Mourning dove ma’am? Hold on.” By this time I was wondering what bird universe I had stumbled into. But I had been transferred to the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays.

It was explained to me that this bird was undoubtedly a fledgling that had recently left the nest, that it probably could fly and that its parents were probably nearby watching it and feeding it when necessary. I was relieved and told my neighbor (who I suspect knew this and had used the situation to teach me something). My husband and I have called on this center and its volunteers several times through the years. They are infinitely knowledgeable and caring; a valuable resource. To find out more about them call 631-728-9453 or visit

Six years ago, I was working in a vegetable garden that had four tall pots planted with decorative plants sitting between the beds. The soil level in them was at chest height. One day I walked past one and something out of place caught my eye. There was a mourning dove sitting statue-still on a nest inside the roots of a trellised vine. I looked at her; she saw me, and she continued to sit on the nest, watching me. My crew worked carefully and quietly around that pot while she devotedly sat on the nest and let us meekly look at her to check on developments. And then one day, there they were, the odd-looking, new hatchlings. As long as we approached respectfully, she let us look in each day to watch the babies grow. One day there was only the empty nest.

Garden Mature Mourning Dove
Garden Mature Mourning Dove.
Photo credit: Terry Sullivan

Last fall my husband, an unrelenting birder who monitors the yard and birdfeeders here at our house, saw a fledgling mourning dove at the bottom of one of the feeders. Knowing they are my favorite bird he summoned me. Once again, the bird looked vulnerable. Though it was eagerly eating, it was small and did not fly away when we thought it should. My darling man guarded that fledge from the doorway until it finally demonstrated that it could fly. We were greatly relieved.

Jeanelle Myers is a professional gardener, landscaper and consultant. For gardening discussion you can call her at 631-434-5067. Myer’s husband, Sag Harbor poet, photographer and “performing plumber” Terry Sullivan, will release his first book, The Birds of Sag Harbor Notebook: A Conversational Survey in Poetry, Prose, Photography and Prints, published by Empire Science Resources, in February 2016 with a forward by Myers.

Garden Monarch Caterpillar
Garden Monarch Caterpillar.
Photo credit: Terry Sullivan


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