By Ed Runyan
The “12 Days of Christmas” song talks about two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree, but what about a nesting mourning dove in a tomato plant?
As odd as it seems, a worker at the Walmart garden department in Bazetta Township discovered a mourning dove a week ago sitting placidly in a potted tomato plant for sale in the outdoor plant display in front of the store.
“I sprayed her down, and I said ‘What is that?’” store employee Terri Barbe of Champion said, remembering her surprise at seeing the bird while watering the tomato plants. “And I said, ‘I’m sorry I got you all wet.’”
Barbe said she believes the dove is preparing to lay eggs in the potted plant because she built a nest with sticks and hasn’t moved once, even when Barbe gets fairly close.
“Usually they’ll fly away when you get that close,” Barbe said of birds.
Barbe says she’s never seen anything like it during the five years she’s worked in the plant department.
Barbe said the bird has become something of a curiosity to those who know about her, especially Barbe’s plant-department co-workers.
Though the workers are enjoying the dove’s company, they have not named her, Barbe said, but would welcome some good suggestions for a name.
Barbe said she’s also shown the dove to children a few times, and they seem to get a kick out of it.
Barbe admits she does sometimes talk to the dove, but the dove doesn’t seem to react much.
“Look how pretty she is,” Barbe said. “She winks sometimes.”
The dove picked out a plant in the center of a metal rack about 6 feet high, covered by another shelf. Each shelf contains about 20 tomato plants.
The shelving units have been in the parking lot about a month.
Barbe said she doesn’t expect there to be a problem with a customer wanting to buy the pot the dove is using.
“There’s a lot of other ones,” Barbe said, adding that nobody has bothered the dove so far.
Heather Merrit, who operates Birds of Flight Sanctuary in Howland, said that it’s likely that baby birds are on the way and that it will be about a month before they can leave the nest.
Merrit said the babies will be born in about a week, and it will take about two more weeks before they can leave the nest.
For a week or two after that, the babies mature to a point of being able to leave the nest for good, Merrit said.
“She didn’t pick a very good place” to nest, Merrit said, but if human beings leave the nest alone, it’s likely that the mother will call the birds away from the nest to the fields behind the store within about a month.
Merrit said she’d be willing to help out at around that time if the fledglings get in trouble in the store parking lot, for instance.
Merrit’s advice: “Everybody should leave the babies alone.”