Lessons from the Nest: The Resilience of Mourning Doves

Charlie "Tremendous" Jones, one of the greatest communicators of all time, said, "Tell a story; make a point." I live in a wooded paradise with no shortage of inspiring stories gleaned from the creatures I share my residence with in the woods of South Central Pennsylvania. We moved in almost five years ago, and since then, I have noticed an increase in mourning doves. I grew up listening to their beautiful coo as a child and have always loved them.

Doves are known for their unique whistling sound, their strong monogamous bonds with their mates, as symbols of peace and tranquility, and spiritual messengers, such as returning the olive branch to Noah and alighting on Christ at his baptism.

I have a hanging basket outside my kitchen window that my sweet doves nest in throughout the year. They lay their eggs and I soon see baby doves fed by their sweet Mama while the patient daddy looks on. I watch them grow bigger; their feathers come in, and they begin moving their wings. They're growing up under the care of phenomenal and ever-watchful parents.

This pair of fledglings was one week to 10 days old when I took these pictures. This past Friday, we had guests arriving for the weekend, and I wanted to hose down the deck and clean the windows so we could enjoy this glorious spring outside. The next thing you know, I got the stream of water too close to the nest, and heard a loud whoosh! I gingerly climbed a step stool to see if the fledglings were still there, and to my dismay, the nest was empty! I looked at the ground and saw no signs of the babies toppling out. I checked the sides of the deck and found no trace. I felt horrible! What had I done?!

I immediately grabbed my phone and searched online to find out when the fledglings would be strong enough to survive my lapse of situational awareness, using words like, "Help! I scared some baby mourning doves out of the nest! Will they be okay?" I found a website called toughlittlebirds.com/(for real!), and that made me feel a tiny, teensy bit better. Then I found an article titled, "You scared baby birds out of their nest, oh no! Will they be okay?" (Another, seriously, for real!) Thank God people are sharing their experiences to help the rest of us!

The blog said that the optimal time to leave the nest is two weeks. Mom and Dad watch the fledglings (usually two) and continue to feed them for another week until they cut the avian cord, and the little baby doves become independent entities. Okay, okay, so that's the ideal! But what about when a stupid human interrupts the perfect cycle of life? That's called force-fledgling. In the past, ornithologists did not typically know if this was a good thing or a bad thing. However, the research now triumphantly reveals the following:

Their results were surprising: force-fledged baby birds did not have lower survival rates than naturally-fledged babies. In fact, the force-fledged babies had higher survival rates! 

Hurray!! And what a life lesson for all of us! So many times, we shield our children, loved ones, or even colleagues, from the traumas or pain of this world when we may be doing them a huge disservice.

In the perennial best-seller Life is Tremendous, my father, Charles recounts the time he taught my brother, Jeff, how to sell greeting cards door-to-door. As the child of a motivational speaker, I think force-fledgling was part of his DNA. I remember my door-to-door sales experience, military academies, and boot camp, thinking, "You can't scare me; I flew from the Tremendous nest!"

A young Jeff would role-play with Charles, knocking on the hallway "door" enthusiastically, only to have Charles bluster at him, "What are you doing interrupting my lunch!" Dad let Jeff have it again and again. Why? Because he was teaching Jeff that life is tough, and people are mean, and you can and will survive because you can stay strong and regenerate. Here's what Charles said:

"I got him up, and we started over. I let him get through the second line, and I shot him down, the third line, and I shot him down. His mother downstairs thought I was killing her baby! But I was getting her baby ready for a little living! You know who's 'killing their baby' today? The parent who is raising his kid to think the world is going to give him a hug and a kiss every time he turns around. I was getting this boy of mine ready for reality!"

This story went through my mind as I prayed for a happy ending for these two little force-fledgling babies. The next day, Saturday, I saw no sign of the babies. I walked the property and saw only a few doves. Perhaps the word was out, and they were mad at me. Even though I had read the research stating they were probably okay, I still felt terrible. That evening, I saw Mom and Dad out on our back deck. I wondered if they were happy celebrating date night because now they were "empty nesters." But I still felt terrible.

The next morning, I was grading papers in my corner office and saw Mama Dove fly back into the nest. I thought, Oh my, now she truly is a "mourning" dove! As I watched, I heard her begin the beautiful dove coo. I hoped and prayed that she was calling for her babies to come and find her.

This cooing lasted for several minutes, and then Mama Dove flew away. The next thing you know, out of the corner of my eye, I looked out the side door and saw one of the fledglings on the deck! And then I saw the other fledgling, along with Mama and Dad! I couldn't believe it! I was so happy I cried.

So that's the story, and here's the point: people are way more resilient and robust than we give them credit for. The earlier we expose them to challenges, the more adaptive and regenerative they become. And yes, even as little ones. Pain is a fact of life, but suffering is optional. The adage, "no pain, no gain," is the gospel truth. So, let's stop coddling and start forcing tremendous changes in our lives. Because in the end, if it doesn't kill you, it will make you stronger! My doves aren't just tough; they're tremendously tough, and so are you! So leave that nest behind and enjoy living in the great expanse God gave us.


Adaptive capacityChallengesForced changeMourning dovesRegenerationResilence




Outstanding blog! Such an incredible lesson your father taught you brother, and one that you have passed on to us. Life is tough but so are we!!
PS – Very happy the babies were ok!!

Elizabeth Benkovich

Elizabeth Benkovich

This article was so special. Thank you, dear Tracey. Say a loving “Hello!” To your two sweet dogs!

Frank Romeo

Frank Romeo

Great messsage

Frank Romeo

Frank Romeo

Great messsage

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