S TRANGE as it may seem, there had never been any Mourning Doves in the forest until this year, and when a pair came there to live, the people were much excited. They talked about the Doves' song, so sweet and sad, and about their soft coats of brown and gray, and they wondered very much what kind of home they would build. Would it be a swinging pocket of hairs, strings, and down, like that of the Orioles? Would it be stout and heavy like the nests of the Robins? Or would it be a ball of leaves and grasses on the ground, with a tiny doorway in one side, like that of the Ovenbird?
You can see that the forest people were really very much interested in the Mourning Doves, and so, perhaps, it is not strange that, when the new couple built their nest in the lower branches of a spruce tree, everybody watched it and talked about it.
"Really," said one of the Blackbirds, who had flown over from the swamp near by, "I never should think of calling that thing a nest! It is nothing but a few twigs and sticks laid together. It is just as flat as a maple-leaf, and what is to keep those poor little Doves from tumbling to the ground I can't see."
"I wouldn't worry about the little Doves yet," said a Warbler. "I don't think there will ever be any little Doves in that nest. The eggs will roll off of it long before they are ready to hatch, and the nest will blow to pieces in the first storm we have."
"Well," said the Blackbird, as she started for home, "I shall want to know how the Mourning Doves get on. If any of you are over my way, stop and tell me the news."
Some days after this, a Quail, passing under the Doves' home, happened to look up and see two white eggs in the nest. It was so very thin that she could see them quite plainly through the openings between the twigs. Later in the day, she spoke of this to a Grouse, saying, "I came by the Mourning Doves' nest and saw two white eggs through the bottom."
After she went away, the Grouse said to a wild Rabbit: "The Quail told me that the Mourning Dove's eggs went right through the bottom of her nest, and I don't wonder. It wasn't strong enough to hold anything."
At sunset, the Rabbit had a short visit with Mrs. Goldfinch, as she pulled a great thistle-head to pieces and made her supper from its seeds. He told her he had heard that the Mourning Dove's eggs had fallen through the bottom of the nest and broken on the ground, and Mrs. Goldfinch said: "Oh, that poor Mrs. Mourning Dove! I must go to see her in the morning." Then she fled home to her own four pearly treasures.
Now, of course the Rabbit was mistaken when he said anybody had told him that those two eggs were broken; just as much mistaken as the Grouse was when she said somebody had told her that the eggs had fallen. They both thought they were right, but they were careless listeners and careless talkers, and so each one had changed it a bit in the telling.
The next day it rained, and the next, and the next. Mrs. Goldfinch did not dare leave her nest to make calls, lest the cold raindrops should chill and hurt the four tiny birds that lay curled up in their shells. At last the weather was warm and sunshiny, and Mrs. Goldfinch and some of her bird neighbors went to call on Mrs. Mourning Dove. They found her just coming from a wheat-field, where she had been to get grain. "Oh, you poor creature!" they cried. "We have heard all about it. Your poor babies! How sorry we are for you!"
Mrs. Mourning Dove looked from one to another as though she did not know what to make of it. "What do you mean?" she cooed. "My babies are well and doing finely. Won't you come to see them?"
Then it was the turn of the other birds to be surprised. "Why," they chirped, "we heard that your eggs had fallen through your nest and had broken and killed the tiny Dove babies inside. Is it true?"
"Not a word of it," answered Mrs. Mourning Dove. "The nest is all right, and the eggs were not broken until my two little darlings broke them with their sharp beaks."
"Here they are," she added, fondly. "Did you ever see such pretty ones? See him open his bill, the dear! And did you ever see such a neck as she has? Mr. Mourning Dove thinks there never were such children."
"But do you feel perfectly safe to leave them in that nest?" asked the Oriole politely. "My babies are so restless that I should be afraid to trust them in it."
"That is what people always say," answered Mrs. Mourning Dove, with a happy coo, "and I fear that I am a rather poor housekeeper, but it runs in our family. Mr. Mourning Dove and I have raised many pairs of children, and they never rolled out, or tumbled through, or blew away, and I do not worry about these. I shall never be thrifty like you good builders, perhaps, but I'm sure you cannot love your little ones any more than I do mine. It was very kind of you to be so sorry for me when you heard I was in trouble. I think I have the best neighbors in the world."
When her callers went away, they could not say enough about Mrs. Mourning Dove's pleasant ways, and her gentle, well-behaved children. "It is too bad she is such a poor nest-maker," the Vireo said, "and I understand now what she meant when she told me that they sometimes used old Robins' nests for their young. She said they flattened them out and added a few twigs, and that they did finely. I thought it very queer in them to do so, but perhaps if I had not been a good builder I should have done the same thing."
"Perhaps we all would," the others agreed. "She certainly is a very pleasant bird, and she is bringing up her children well. Mr. Mourning Dove seems to think her perfect. We won't worry any more about her."