Colours of Wildlife: The African Mourning Dove

1 Conversation

Willem is a wildlife artist based in South Africa. He says "My aim is simply to express the beauty and wonder that is in Nature, and to heighten people's appreciation of plants, animals and the wilderness. Not everything I paint is African! Though I've never been there, I'm also fascinated by Asia and I've done paintings of Asian rhinos and birds as well. I may in future do some of European, Australian and American species too. I'm fascinated by wild things from all over the world! I mainly paint in watercolours ... but actually many media including 'digital' paintings with the computer!"

The African Mourning Dove

Today's picture is of an African Mourning Dove, Streptopelia decipiens (also sometimes called Mourning Collared Dove). Once again this is a very special picture to me.

It started in a very special place – the Letaba Rest Camp of the Kruger National Park here in South Africa. Our family has visited the park many times, in each case staying in a few different camps in the park, but Letaba has always been my favourite. This camp is a bit to the north of the centre of the park, along the Letaba River. This river flows from not far from where I live eastwards towards and through the park.

Letaba is one of the prettiest camps. I don't know about the huts and buildings and such but the trees are lovely, as is the general environment. Much of the natural riverside vegetation has been left intact in the camp, and so there are some wonderful big trees like wild figs and apple leafs. The camp furthermore has many of the impressive specimens identified with little plaques with the scientific names and also Afrikaans and English common names.

It is in one such a tree right in the camp that I took the photo from which I made this painting. The dove was enjoying some large and juicy figs. Another man was also taking photos of the same dove; he had a telescope lens almost a yard in length and mounted on a tripod. I just had my old second-hand camera, with a modest zoom lens, and not wanting to bother the photographer, I just snapped a couple of pictures standing to the side of him.

Now about the dove. These doves are very widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, but rare in South Africa. The only place where I know them to be common is along the Letaba River and especially in this camp. They are so common and tame there that I forever associate them with Letaba. I consider them to constitute the unofficial welcoming committee! Inevitably, soon after we arrive one or two or a few of these doves will come and land near us with their characteristic welcoming call: Krrrroooo! It's an extended coo descending the scale, and with a clearly pronounced, almost rattling 'rrrr'-sound mixed in. Our family therefore always refer to them as 'Koerduiwe' (Koo-errr-doves).

When not welcoming humans these doves also often display to each other, bobbing their heads up and down while emitting a pleasant bubbling cooing: "HOOO – koodoodoodoodoodoo!" Its territorial call, which often follows this, is three notes, 'Woo-wuwoooo', repeated. I don't quite know why they're called 'mourning' doves since all their calls are actually quite friendly and pleasant sounding.

In this YouTube video you can hear all three of these calls.

The doves will hang around people a lot in the camp, expecting and occasionally getting some tidbits of food. In this they are joined by other bird species that have also learnt this trick, such as glossy starlings, bulbuls, sparrows and a variety of weavers. Some other species of dove are also to be seen, but the Mourning Doves are the stars of the camp.

This dove species belongs to a large group of African and Eurasian doves, called the collared doves. All of them have a black collar around the back of the neck; they are generally very similar and many species are hard to distinguish from each other. This is one of the easiest. Not only are its calls unmistakable, it is the only species that has a light, yellowish eye surrounded by a red ring of bare skin. It is a fairly large dove, 28-30 cm (11"-12") in length. It's the second-largest collared dove in South Africa. The Eurasian Turtle Dove is a close relative; the American Mourning Dove is not.

African Mourning doves typically occur close to large rivers in the warmer savannah regions of Africa. They make their nest in large riverside trees, in South Africa typically choosing the huge Ana Trees. Their nests are the flimsy stick affairs typical of most pigeons and doves, and they typically lay two eggs. Unlike most other doves, they usually restrict their breeding to the rainy season, but have occasionally been recorded breeding in the dry season in South Africa. Unlike their relatives they are not frequent visitors to town and city gardens.

After our visit to the park, we came home and I had the photos developed. Disappointingly, most of them came out quite underexposed. So I decided to 'correct' that by doing a painting from the photo. We had recently acquired a scanner, so I scanned the photos and did my best to enhance them with my primitive graphics program and from the enhanced photos I then proceeded to create my painting. This was in the late nineties. I decided to paint it using acrylics; it was the first time I had tried that. I had done oils and watercolours before; acrylics in a way combines features of both. It took me very long to finish the painting; as you can see, I finished it in the year 2000. It was a time when I was struggling with my mental health problems. But tackling this painting, and finishing it, was the stimulus that set me upon the road of becoming a 'real' artist. Well, I have come a long way since then, and I think I am now quite successful at what I do, but this is still one of my own favourite paintings.

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