‘Who cooks for you?” My friend, Rand Carlson, the talented cartoonist for the “Tucson Weekly” told me he’s certain that’s what mourning doves are saying when they coo.
“Who cooks for you?”
This makes a measure of sense when it’s in the context of a mating call, but I’m still not convinced mourning doves are hoping to score a mate by offering to whip up a casserole.
Arizona’s birds are amazing, beautiful and prized by bird enthusiasts the world over.
Ask any member of our Tucson Audubon Society and they’ll tell you bird watchers, also known as “Bird Nerds” and “Ruby-Throated Woodland Shushers,” come to Southern Arizona from all over the world to to see and hear our remarkable feathered friends and to “shush” noisy woodland hikers, like myself. Our birds are really something to crow about.
My favorite bird is the migratory Michiganis Snowbirdeum, or “The North American Snowbird.” A distant relative of the grouse, they’re known for their platinum blue plumage and their empty nests.
Arizona has an amazing diversity of species. We’ve got vermillion flycatchers, cactus wrens, road runners, hummingbirds, hawks, quail, sparrows, woodpeckers, blue jays, buzzards (many of whom serve in our Legislature), jaywalkers, finches, the Cardinals (a team with a weak running game) and of course, mourning doves, the maudlin sad sacks of the Sonoran biome.
A debate has been hatching among noted ornithologists about the call of these chronically grief-stricken birds. What they’re “mourning” is up for debate. Perhaps they’re blue because no one cooks for them. For more on this subject, see my earlier study on arachnid despondency “Why the Black Widow Spider sighs.”
Many ornithologists and aging Beatles fans believe the call of the mourning dove is “koo-koo-ka-joo.” Critics of the “koo-koo-ka-joo” theory argue that such a call would be more appropriate for a walrus, or a mysterious “Egg Man.”
Noted wildlife biologist, Professor Thornton Titwillow of Falcons Nest University asserted in his doctoral thesis the mourning dove’s song is simply an avian pickup line, having observed males, during mating season, warbling “Hey, hey, what’s new?” to females who typically respond with “What’s-it-to-you?” or “Back off, Tweetie.”
At a recent gathering of birdwatchers a fist fight broke out over the question of what exactly mourning doves are cooing. Binoculars were broken. (At one time the breaking of a fellow birdwatcher’s binoculars was akin to throwing down the gauntlet; calling for a duel which could only be settled with a bird whistling contest that would sometimes leave combatants with chapped lips or, worse, the inability to shush noisy hikers for days.)
The family of quail who star in my “Caliente” cartoons are big fans of the Tucson Audubon Society and the birdseed I leave on my studio’s window sill. Yesterday the birds told me the local Audubon works to protect habitats like the San Pedro River and to ban insecticides that threaten bees, and that our local Audubon is a formidable voice for conservation.
Birds are the canary in the environmental coal mine. Before I could ask my quail pals, “What is the purpose of that black thing on top of your head?” my wife Ellen walked into my studio with sandwiches and I had to pretend I wasn’t talking to the birds. A fledgling, she can’t handle the truth about my tiny friends.
Audubon declared this the Year of the Hummingbird. This upset Tucson’s notoriously petty cactus wrens, who cried, “Fowl!” when they heard this news on the fly. The quail told me cactus wrens call hummingbirds, “overrated feeder-sucking peacocks.” It’s sad when a pecking order causes good manners fly the coop like that.
I love cactus wrens and I love hummingbirds. They’re so flighty.
I’m emceeing Audubon’s annual gala, “Fly! An Evening celebration of Arizona’s Birds and the Arts” next Friday at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort only because in this age of environmental degradation what’s good for the goose is good for the gander — and for humanity. And they’ve promised me there will be birds. I was so excited you could knock me down with a feather. After I wet my beak at the bar I can’t wait to talk to the birds when no one’s looking. I’ll bet the owls know what the mourning doves are actually saying.
By the way, who cooks for you?