As I was saying yesterday, mourning doves aren’t among my favorite birds, but they have their attractive qualities, not the least of which is their mournful morning cooing and who-who-whoooing. Grackles, on the other hand, have almost nothing to recommend them.
Eight a.m. and I’m hard at work in my summer office. That would be the front porch, for those of you new to Mannionville industrial and retail complex. Not much people activity, except for me, but lots of bird activity. No sign of the catbirds who live in our bushes but I expect one or more will be along shortly to remind me who really owns the place. But right now I’m being watched by a mourning dove perched on a telephone wire. He or she is busy with grooming its feathers but since that doesn’t seem to require studious attention, the bird’s keeping an idle eye on me as if I might somehow make myself interesting and interrupt the boredom. Mourning doves aren’t among my favorite birds mainly because even though I know better I think of them as just a kind of pigeon, and, while it’s unfair to call pigeons as they’re often called “rats with wings,” the phrase just pops into my head when I look at a mourning dove. Makes it hard to give them the admiration they deserve.
Pigeons, by the way, the gray and brown gluttons you feed in the park type, aren’t officially named pigeons. They’re rock doves. But they’re pigeons, not doves. Cornell’s Ornithology Lab doesn’t bother being polite about it. They flat out call them pigeons. Rock pigeons. Mourning doves, though, are doves, and being watched by this mourning dove reminded me I’ve been saving an article from the New York Times to share with you since March and this morning is a good time to finally get around to it. Here you go:
The “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History”, founded in his bedroom by eight-year old Theodore Roosevelt, got off to a shaky start:
While other children might have been content with a small collection of seashells or some neatly pressed flowers, Roosevelt’s collection included some truly grotesque finds. When he acquired a live snapping turtle---an aggressive pond-dweller covered in algae and decorated with a gruesome frill of leeches---the entire household rebelled.
Jostled by the swarms of fashionable shoppers, the boy continued along Broadway, glancing through the storefront windows, until he passed a familiar grocery, where something caught his eye. Amid the usual cartons of fruits and vegetables was an object strangely out of place, splayed out on a slab of wood. It was the dull mass of a seal, dead less than a day. Placed on display to attract paying customers, its corpulent body drew the child’s attention.
Sliding his hand along the seal’s glossy-smooth pelt and peering deeply into its clouding eyes, he was overwhelmed with interest. Its eyes were so big, and they were fringed with delicate eyelashes just like his own. Curious onlookers stood back, only a brave few leaning in for a closer look, but the little boy remained transfixed. It was probably a harbor seal, still fairly common in New York Harbor. So transfixed was the boy by this exotic creature that he raced home for a notebook and ruler, returning moments later to measure the carcass and jot down a few notes on its color and appearance. The eight-year-old boy then wrote a detailed natural history of seals based entirely on that one dead animal.