Let's Talk About Birds: Beautiful fruit dove

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This is one of a series presented by the National Aviary, which works to inspire respect for nature through an appreciation of birds.

If you gave a group of children a deluxe set of crayons and the outline of a pigeon-like bird, a few of them might imagine something as vividly colored as the real bird called beautiful fruit dove.

A native of low-lying rain forests in Papua New Guinea and adjacent Indonesian islands, the beautiful fruit dove is just one of 50 incredibly beautiful fruit dove species in the genus Ptilinopus. Fruit doves are found only in Southeast Asia and surrounding areas, where they are ecologically important as dispersers of seeds of many fruiting trees and shrubs, including palms, laurels and figs.

The beautiful fruit dove is smaller but far more colorful than the common mourning dove of our area. It has a jungle green back and a Granny Smith apple green head, a magenta crown, a lemon-yellow and mango belly bordered with mulberry, a periwinkle face and chest, a "laser lemon" beak, orange-yellow eyes, and "tickle me pink" feet. The male and female are similarly colored, but the male is perhaps just a little bit more beautiful.

Unlike many other kinds of doves and pigeons, the robin-sized beautiful fruit dove is not gregarious -- in the wild it is ordinarily found alone or in pairs. During the nesting season, the male stands near a female, puffs himself up, stretches himself taller, bends his head down, expands his throat and utters a series of loud musical hoots and coos. After mating, the female lays a single white egg in a fragile nest made of sticks and leaves.

Like all pigeons and doves, adult fruit doves feed their nestling a specialized secretion of cells shed from the lining of their crop, which is an expanded muscular pouch in the esophagus sometimes used for storing food prior to digestion. Called "crop milk," this secretion is extremely high in protein and fat. In fact, a pigeon's milk contains more fat and protein than cow's milk; it also contains antibodies and some beneficial bacteria for the growing chick. Only crop milk is fed for the first week; partly digested fruits and seeds are added to the chick's diet later on.

A pair of beautiful fruit doves lives in the "Canary's Call" exhibit at the National Aviary, in between the rhinoceros hornbills and the Malayan flying foxes. They share their patch of simulated rain forest habitat with a pair of violaceous euphonias and black-faced dacnises.

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