It’s that time of year again: Valentine’s Day. Love is in the air. Literally! For centuries a common symbol of love has been the dove. One reason for this reputation is their association with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. According to mythology, doves were one of Aphrodite’s favorite birds, and her golden chariot was even pulled by doves. Similarly, doves were a sacred bird to Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
Like many species of birds, doves are monogamous and some even mate for life. This is likely another reason for why they represent love. The males are unique to a majority of other animal species because they contribute to raising the young just as much as the mothers do. Male doves even produce milk. The milk of doves is called “crop milk” and it has little resemblance to mammalian milk. Crop milk is a semi-solid substance that the parent birds regurgitate into their baby birds’ mouths. It’s higher in protein than mammalian milk but lacks calcium. Unlike many other species of birds, it’s generally hard to identify the gender of a dove based on their appearance and their courtship behavior is usually used as the indicator.
Doves are part of the Columbidae family which has around 300 species and also includes pigeons. What a lot of people don’t realize is that there is very little difference between doves and pigeons. Doves are slightly smaller but besides that the terms are often used interchangeably. One bird in the Columbidae family, the Homing pigeon, was used to carry messages, often during war. But maybe they sent Valentine’s Day notes too!
Here at Piedmont Wildlife Center we have our very own love ambassador, Miracle the Silky Ringneck Dove. He was born in a library and was donated to us in 2009. Miracle is fully white and is also considered a frizzled dove because the ends of his feathers are frizzled. This hinders his ability to fly, although he can flutter his way to the ground from a perch. Miracle is very vocal and will make various assortments of coos when you’re anywhere near his cage. We’d like to think he’s letting us know he loves us.
Happy Valentine’s Day from Miracle!
By Wildlife Conservation Intern, Stephanie LaDue