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Feathery fable


Dove feather in grass, Flickr image by zeneraAmong the greens and blues of the grasses and gum trees, her pure white glares through.

She bears no resemblance to the residents of this place, of whom there are six in all, sporting bold lustrous colours with glinting highlights: black and silver, gold and black, red, and yellow ochre. Nor does she resemble other visitors to this place; not the drab unwelcome ones arriving in their great numbers, nor the much celebrated rainbow coloured ones arriving in pairs or threes to perch on the wire fences, a callistemon or melaleuca.

Not only is her presence unusual, but so is her demeanour. She sits still, perfectly still, and not in the safety of a tree but on the grass. It seems she has somehow given up; happy for her end to come via a predator of any calibre. At the very least, she has lost the plot.

Our curiosity piqued, the children and I spy on her from a distance and for some minutes. Then, as if a switch has been flicked, a sickening sinking feeling takes hold inside me.

Like that day at the beach when in the distance the girls and I spotted a seal: a most beautiful black seal, sitting upright in perfect seal form. He was way back on the sand, seemingly transfixed by the great ocean before him. We jogged towards him with excited chatter all the way: Why is he alone? Where has he come from? Are there any more? What will Dad say?

Seals are occasionally seen duck diving through the breakers close to shore, but never have we spotted one on land.

His distant contours were exquisite in design, as pen and hand might flow in one smooth stroke. His motionless form was utter beauty. But then, quite close now, our joy turned black: eyes gone, life gone. I think I cried; inside, if not out. Lily took up a stick and drew a big RIP in the sand. We didn't speak, the girls and me. We hovered a bit, and then turned back.

Moving towards the little dove with kids in tow, relief ascends as I see she is alive, although thin and small. She scuttles away from us along the ground, too weak to fly, so we back off. We find some wheat and throw it to her and she pecks at this: excellent. By night she is gone. Someone's escaped pet, we conclude, hopefully on her journey home.

Two weeks later to our great delight, the dove returns. We liberally scatter wheat seed near the house and it contrasts with the terra cotta pavers to make for easy pickings. It seems in no time that Dove's weekly visits turn to daily visits turn to residency.

We joke that one day she will bunk in with our free range bantams. Then, one splendid morning, we see she has! Out of the elevated hutch they parade as usual, strutting and clucking their way down the gang plank ... but this time with a white dove following at the rear!

I can't stop smiling all day; we are all tickled pink by our little wing-ed family: the acceptance and camaraderie between 'those of another feather'.

Soon Dove takes on more bantam-like characteristics. Namely, she walks everywhere instead of flying, she stays with the group and pecks and scratches at the ground. Clearly she is happy to blend in and adopt the culture of her new home.

Egg collecting is the task of the eight- and nine-year-old humans of the household. It is mid morning, mid spring when I hear muffled shouts and excitement coming from the coop, followed not long after by two animated kiddies with lit up faces blurting out the news as one: 'Dove has laid an egg!' And so she has: a little pale blue dove egg, considerably smaller than the bantam eggs that her room mates lay daily.

We do much research and find out the expected incubation time and learn that doves produce milk to feed their young; quite different from a bantam. Will she cope okay?

Excitement mounts as we tick off the days on the kitchen calendar until the happy event. To our dismay, 'the day' comes and goes. To our disappointment, it then goes some more. It is obvious to all that Dove's egg is infertile. All, that is, except Dove, who sits and sits.

We are nearing the point of intervention — physically ousting her from her nest — when the most miraculous thing happens. Opening the coop door of a morning, out comes Dove ... with her newly hatched baby! Not a dove, like herself, but a bantam! A little yellow bantam, kept close at heel by his solicitous mother as she descends the gang plank.

I cannot describe the elation of the miracle I am witnessing. Or maybe I can: gob smacked joy! And a more proud mother you could not imagine, showing off her little one for all to see.

With the human family soon gathered around we all talk at once, such is our wonder and excitement. When we look into the place where she sat for two months, at the back corner of the hutch, we see the unhatched little pale blue dove egg is surrounded by six or more bantam eggs! It appears the bantams took the opportunity to place their eggs in the nest of a diligent sitter, likely while she was on a food and water break.

Next we wonder how she will manage. After all she will produce milk, but bantams need food — not milk. How will she feed him? And doves fly, but bantams don't ... will she teach him to fly to his peril?

Well. We shouldn't have worried. Dove walked her baby everywhere, plus he thrived so she worked out the food-thing too. Nature has a way; we came to learn first hand. And when that way is different, nature has a way for that too.

Fiona DouglasFollowing a two decade career in rural journalism and editing, Fiona Douglas now breeds mini dachshunds and paint horses on her farm at Gippsland, Victoria where she lives with her husband and their teenage daughters. 

Topic tags: Fiona Douglas, dove, bantam, free range, chicken, seal



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Existing comments

This is such a lovely story, beautifully told! Thank you for sharing.

MBG | 02 February 2011  

Thank you, Fiona, for the wonderful article! I really enjoyed everything about it: the language, the style, the profound experience of the wonders of nature that you were able to convey with so much vividness.

James Uravil | 02 February 2011  

Crossing 'cultural' barriers with 'wild' animals is a taste of miracle: very precious moments to treasure. Thanks for a lovely story of your little 'miracle'.

glen avard | 02 February 2011  

Doves will produce milk? Really?

Julie | 02 February 2011  

This is a beautiful story. Thank you for it really make me feel very happy that such things can and do happen in a world where usually we read and hear only of sad, inhuman and bizarre happenings. I have printed the story for my grandchildren sp they can share the experience as well.

Isabel Hodgins | 03 February 2011  

Lovely story on a bleak day- thankyou.

pamela | 04 February 2011  

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