White-winged doves, birds of our deep southwest and Mexico, have officially been seen in Minnesota 34 times. Officially — we’ll get to that in a moment.
The two most recent sightings have been in the same south Minneapolis backyard, this June and last. Yup, the bird showed up in the same small backyard two years running without the species being reported elsewhere in the state since 2017.
That’s very unusual.
A white-winged dove was seen by Jim Hovey and Pam Stevenson in their yard last June. Another appeared this June, feeding on seeds beneath the feeders maintained for neighborhood birds.
Same bird? It’s a reasonable assumption. The odds of two individuals of that species, uncommon here, coincidently choosing that particular yard in back-to-back years are very, very long. The bird’s internal map dropped a marker.
What does Jim think? Maybe, he said. This bird has two differences, a slightly hoarser voice and a limp, he told me during a visit I made to see for myself. He thinks the limp could have been acquired between visits.
An active birder, Jim posted the sighting on an internet page devoted to Minnesota birds. “We wanted to pay it forward, let others know,” he said. “So many people have helped us find birds.”
Birders came to the yard last year. My visit put the count for this sighting somewhere in the 40s. Two other birders quietly entered the yard while I was there.
Jim arose from his lawn chair each time to greet them, and point to the dove. It was sitting in plain sight, where it often sat, 30 feet off the ground in a large maple tree.
Jim had posted information to eBird, a reporting network developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Birders detail sightings. Verification is made. Details, including map coordinates, are delivered by e-mail to subscribers (free).
The dove was an eBird celebrity for its short visit here.
Now, about “officially.” The Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union, state bird club and keeper of records, has to accept a sighting as genuine before it enters the record book. There is a committee for this.
In the olden days a detailed written report, with photos if possible, and best confirmed by other birders, was required. Standards were tight, as they should be.
An unknown birder, as I once was, could not simply say a white-winged dove was in my yard. Maybe I don’t know doves from doorknobs. Where is the evidence? Convince us.
And so it is today. Technology — mostly digital cameras — has made proof much easier. There are many more birders. Word that’s now passed via e-mail and cellphone once depended on dial telephones and a much smaller birding community.
The map coordinates on the eBird report, for instance, indicate that the bird is what it is, not the bizarre product of a hopeful imagination.
Jim and Pam take birding vacations, and had first seen white-winged doves in Texas and Mexico. Jim also birds locally, deciding that he didn’t have to drive distances to find birds and good birding. He has favorite places in the city.
He uses eBird not so much to find birds as to record birds he has found. The system allows users to create multiple lists of their own. (See ebird.org.)
One more point: Minnesota has a population of 5.6 million people. A tiny few of them would even notice a white-winged dove much less identify it. How many doves or other rare avian visitors do you think are here today but unknown?
Lifelong birder Jim Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Join his conversation about birds at startribune.com/wingnut.