BELLEVILLE – One good thing about fall approaching, besides the melancholy panoply of colours, is the fact the outdoor wedding season will be over and, thus, many doves and white pigeons will survive at least another several months.
There are many myths and misconceptions about birds and their behaviour. Perhaps the most annoying and dangerous is the one where a wedding couple releases white doves into the air.
The ritual is intended to symbolize peace and freedom. But while the happy couple is whooping it up at the reception those poor birds are flapping their wings for the last time.
If the birds are released too close to sundown they will not be able to orient themselves and find their way home, which is the breeder’s home. Birds can’t navigate in the dark. Also if they’re domestic-raised they possess no survival skills. Even those with a fighting chance probably have no notion of hydro wires or crows, ravens and hawks.
Most ‘white doves’ are pigeons bred to be white. Even white homing pigeons are in danger. Genuine ring-necked doves as well as white king pigeons have little if any chance of survival.
At least, most wedding doves are purchased from breeders. It is illegal to buy and release any store-bought bird.
All birds do not fly south in the winter and not just ones from the Southern hemisphere. And those that do fly south usually get there by an indirect route, first heading east or west. Ornithologists are not agreed on why this is so. The precious little hummingbird is supposed to fly all the way to South America but North American hummingbirds have rarely been seen in Panama and never south of there.
There is the myth flightless birds are easy prey. Usually, however, they are flightless because they don’t need to fly. They can run or swim faster than their enemies.
The rhea, for instance, can run as fast as any horse. Ostriches and cassowaries can run nearly as fast and kick like giant UFC fighters.
In southern British Columbia a few weeks ago, while sitting outdoors at a table, I had the strange experience of close contact with a hummingbird. It flew to the table and hopped onto my forearm before taking off. It didn’t pause there but rather touched down for a nanosecond. Nevertheless, it was a nanosecond of wonder.
Because people love these birds so much many put out feeders. Last year a friend sent me a photo taken on Christmas Eve of a hummingbird at the feeder outside his kitchen window. The water in the feeder was dyed red ostensibly to provide more attraction to the bird. This is a misconception.
Some people are hesitant to leave home for long periods in the winter because the poor hummingbirds might starve. They won’t.
They feed elsewhere. Hummingbirds need amino acids — protein — to survive and get this from tiny insects, particularly aphids and mosquitoes.
Another domestic bird feeding myth is the one about making sure to keep peanut butter away from birds because it will choke them. It won’t. It is, in fact, a good idea to set out some peanut butter in the winter because it supplies the bird with much needed fat.
And then there is the myth that birds don’t sing on the ground. Observe the flicker and the common robin to realize the folly of that one.
The Seven-Colours, from Brazil, defies several myths. Not only does it sing on the ground but seems to sing when happy, Getting down on the ground and rolling around before springing to its feet to emit an incredible cry that alternates between a train whistle and a sobbing woman and followed by a song of 30 different syllables. It’s a tanager.


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