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The Ladder-Day Doves, Rick and I

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Message Sandy Sand
The other day I had a Tony Soprano moment.

My moment didn't end in black as the last show of the series did, but harkened back to the beginning when ducklings that had taken up residence in Tony's pool grew up and flew away. Right after that, Tony suffered his first panic attack followed by an eight-season of bout of depression.

Mine only lasted one evening.

It started while my kitchen was being remodeled. Rick, a West Valley (northern burb of Los Angles) resident, owner of a one-man construction company and carpenter with no equal, left a bright yellow ladder leaning up against the back of the house.

I don't know if it was the vivid color that attracted them or the bowl-shaped hollow in the ladder's black top, but that's where Donna and Donny Diamond Dove -- who are probably the dumbest birds I've ever met -- decided to set up houskeeping.

There in lay the problem. Not the birds. Not the droppings. Not the feathers everywhere. But Rick.

He has to be the quietest man since John Wayne, so it took a long time and a little help from his sidekick, Ray, to realize that all through the friendly squabble we were having over him leaving the ladder when the job was finished, he was taking me for a ride on a never-ending joke.

With a straight face, Rick kept telling me when the job was done he and his ladder were going to say good-bye...nesting birds or not. I fell for the bait like a do-do bird and immediately went into negotiation mode, offering to rent or buy the ladder or trade him for a much newer one I have that's about the same height. All I got in response was a quiet "Rick look" that told me nothing and left me hanging.

Nobody knew Rick was kidding; not even Ray who's known him for years. Ray kept saying he couldn't understand Rick's attachment to the ladder, since it was old and slightly broken. Bottom line: Rick left; the ladder stayed.

Now, I've been watching these San Fernando Valley's most frequently seen birds, for years, but I've never seen this before. It made me wonder just how dumb some birds can be. Well, I guess there's a reason we call some people 'bird brains.'

These nearly soundless, dull brown-colored birds with dark brown (almost black) diamond shaped markings on their wings hang out in pairs, take dust baths in the bare patches in my yard where my dog and the gophers have made sure nothing will grow, then bask in the sun after nestling in the dirt. Or, they perch on the back fence for hours.

Shy by nature, they're gone in a brown blurr if we come near them, and usually build their nests high up in trees where they're protected from weather and predators.

In my yard, anyway, their favorite nesting spot was up in 15-foot yucca trees. That was, until I got rid of them...the trees, not the birds. We always knew when nesting season began, because that was the only time they made a peep...an eerie, echoing moanful chrip that signals their approach to the nest.

Now, these two cuckoos are birds of a different feather. They chose to make a home for their two chicks on the ladder top where they were exposed to predators and our many visits that included one-sided conversations reminiscent of baby talk and snapping off three rolls of film marking the chicks' progress.

It didn't take long to become attached to them, knowing their stay would be short and they'd fly off. In about three weeks the diamond dove family was sadly gone.

The empty nest feeling didn't last long. The next day I saw the young'uns basking in the dirt on the back hill, and discovered a new nest with three chicks of another feather buried deep within a killer cactus that's planted in a wine barrel on the patio.

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Sandy Sand began her writing career while raising three children and doing public relations work for Women's American ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation through Training). That led to a job as a reporter for the San Fernando Valley Chronicle, a (more...)
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