Dr. James J. S. Johnson
So, who coos from the rooftop?
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove; mine eyes fail with looking upward; O LORD, I am oppressed — undertake for me.(Isaiah 38:14)
On Tuesday afternoon, earlier this week, after commuting home from work, I parked my van in front of my house, preparing to enter my home at the end of a tumultuous day. But, as I walked from the driveway toward my front door, I heard a strange-sounding bird, emitting a repetition of low-moaning-like noises, like a somewhat-sick dove might sound as it tried to “coo” (which is why some doves are called “mourning doves”). As I looked above, from where the sounds were originating, I saw an odd bird, much bigger than a dove, perched atop the roof of my house – it was a Greater Roadrunner!
Isaiah the prophet knew that doves can make moaning noises, as if mourning. But other birds can make similar noises, too.
After gazing up at the Roadrunner, who ignored me, I went inside and quickly fetched my handiest bird-book, and soon noticed the following information on the book’s page regarding the Greater Roadrunners (Geococcyx californianus):
“Voice: Six to eight low, dove-like coo’s, descending in pitch.”[Peterson Field Guides, noted below]
[Quoting Roger Tory Peterson, A FIELD GUIDE TO WESTERN BIRDS (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin / PETERSON FIELD GUIDES, 3rd edition, 1990), page 212.]
Bingo! What a perfect description of what I had been hearing near my front door.
Then my imagination got to thinking. Imagine a rat, or a snake, that hears that cooing on the ground, behind one of the thick bushes. What if that hungry rat, or snake, wrongly guessed that the low-moaning cooing noises were clues of a nearby mourning dove nest, where tasty dove eggs (or dove hatchlings) might be located? If any such rat, or snake, made such a mistaken guess — OOPS! Its last thought might be that a hungry roadrunner can sound like a dove!
Such a mistake could be fatal, of course, because roadrunners often eat snakes and small rodents, as well as small lizards, etc.
Ironically, mourning doves often frequent the bushes next to my house; sometimes they perch atop the rooftop. That means our roadrunners sometimes “shadow” the meanderings of our mourning doves.
Someone once said that “curiosity killed the cat” — well, sometimes curiosity might kill a rat.