That Turtle Dove

Turtle doves are in the neighborhood for the fourth year in a row.  One is huge and slow, the other dainty and somewhat quicker.  Sometimes they’re side by side on the power line and sometimes stepping around on the parking area next door, almost invisible against the gravel. I keep my camera handy for a closer shot, one not blurred by a wire fence. Often the big one, which I assume is the male, sits on the high wire above our rear gate, and the smaller female finds seeds inside our yard. Sparrows hop around and she ignores them, but some movement or sound will startle her up to her mate. Always I’m hoping to see the two of them, because I know they mate for life and I don’t want that life to be short.

I’ve heard that their call can be loud and harsh, but that’s not borne out by my experience.  It’s a sweet sound, distant and yet intimate, soft and hollow. It can be sad.  One line about the “mourning” dove is so common that its call must have touched the hearts of many people.  This line, for example, appears in myriad folksongs: “Yonder sits that pretty turtle dove, it flies from pine to pine, mourning for its own true love, as I once did for mine.”  Today, trying to find the original source of that line, I found Ralph Vaughan Williams’ lyrics for “The Turtle Dove,” his arrangement of “Fare Thee Well,” a much older ballad.  Here’s the pertinent verse:

O yonder doth sit that little turtle dove

He doth sit on yonder high tree

A making a moan for the loss of his love

As I will do for thee

“A making a moan.”  Now that sounds mournful.  But when I hear doves in my neighborhood, especially in my own yard, I don’t hear moans, just a gentle greeting. I feel a good nostalgia and a fondness–for the doves and their traits and what they symbolize.


Source for lyrics by Ralph Vaughan Williams:,p01145936


About rmkinder

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2 Responses to That Turtle Dove

  1. Kristine says:

    The call of the mourning dove has always pleased me, even when sunsets fail. It’s a lovely piece.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I enjoyed this! I often hear the call of the mourning dove from the woods around my house, although they never show themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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