Mourning Dove Post Mortem

by Carl Strang

Last week I found a pile of feathers beside the trail at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

The distinctive tail feathers indicated that the prey was a mourning dove.

The distinctive tail feathers indicated that the prey was a mourning dove.

At first I was inclined to think the predator was mammalian. A raptor plucking its dinner from an elevated perch would scatter the feathers more widely. The feathers were pulled cleanly, however, and without the tooth marks and salivary gumming up of barbs that might accompany a mammal’s work. Furthermore, there was no blood and there were no bones.

One of the quill feathers showed a distinct cut or crease across the barbs.

One of the quill feathers showed a distinct cut or crease across the barbs.

That kind of mark could have been made by the edge of a raptor’s bill, biting the feather to pull it out. I compared the crease to a great horned owl skull, and the match was perfect, furthermore pointing precisely to a less visible mark made closer to the feather’s attachment point by the other bill edge. The location of the feather pile was well within the woods, and not far from a favorite daytime roost of the local owls. It appears that after removing a bunch of feathers, the owl carried its meal to a more secure, elevated location.

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