Dove ke­bab

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An im­paled dove? A tree stripped of its bark? Send your ques­tions to

QJOHAN FOURIE from Cen­tu­rion writes: I pho­tographed this dove in my gar­den. Although im­paled by a por­cu­pine quill, it didn’t seem to be strug­gling too much, but it did some­times trip over the quill. It ate some pap that I put out and flew into a nearby tree. I know it’s a myth that por­cu­pines shoot their quills and to my knowl­edge there aren’t any por­cu­pines in my area. How­ever, Ri­etvlei Dam is about 13 km away. Any idea what might have hap­pened here?

ABird ex­pert FAANSIE PEA­COCK says: It looks like the quill has pen­e­trated the right side of the bird’s chest, but it missed the wing so it doesn’t seem to have an ef­fect on the bird’s abil­ity to fly, eat or walk around. The wound is prob­a­bly smaller than it looks be­cause it’s hid­den be­neath a thick layer of con­tour feath­ers. This is a freak ac­ci­dent and how it hap­pened is a mys­tery. It might be that the bird ven­tured too close to a por­cu­pine, but that’s un­likely. Por­cu­pines can’t shoot their quills, but peo­ple can. It’s pos­si­ble that there was a third party in­volved. Quills are of­ten used in home-made weapons and traps. But if the bird was shot, the quill is at a strange an­gle. around the tree, but a ba­boon had marked one of the branches higher up. Did ba­boons strip the bark?

AA re­cent study on the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween birds and the North Amer­i­can por­cu­pine re­ported 17 cases and nine species that got to know the sharp end of a por­cu­pine quill. The end re­sult of many of the cases are un­known, but at least half of the birds died. The ma­jor­ity of these cases in­volved birds of prey (ea­gles, buz­zards, hawks and large owls) as well as crows. A grouse hen with quills in her breast has also been recorded. The grouse nests on the ground and she might have been in­jured while pro­tect­ing her eggs: Por­cu­pines might be largely veg­e­tar­ian, but there have been re­ports of North Amer­i­can species eat­ing bird eggs. The cal­cium in the eggshell could be the real tar­get, since por­cu­pines like to gnaw on bones as well. Jo­han was sur­prised to see a por­cu­pine quill in sub­ur­ban Cen­tu­rion, but por­cu­pines are highly adapt­able and are wide­spread in green belts and ur­ban ar­eas. They’re found in many mu­nic­i­pal na­ture re­serves and es­tates in and around Pre­to­ria. I doubt the dove will sur­vive for long. Even if the wounds heal, the quill will re­main a hin­drance.

Plant tax­onomist BRAAM VAN WYK says: It’s hard to say with­out see­ing the tree up close. The most likely ex­pla­na­tion is that peo­ple stripped the bark. Many parts of the cab­bage tree are used in tra­di­tional medicine. Could it have been an an­i­mal? Por­cu­pines some­times ring-bark trees, but mostly along a rel­a­tively nar­row strip just above the ground. In this case, the an­i­mal would have had to move around in the branches and por­cu­pines aren’t known for their tree-climb­ing skills. If there are vis­i­ble tooth marks on the stripped parts of the tree, the an­i­mal had large and sharp teeth. This would point to ba­boons and rock dassies – both species are known to eat bark. I’ve seen bushveld trees stripped by dassies that looked much like the tree in this photo, but not a cab­bage tree. As far as an­i­mals go, the dassie is sus­pect num­ber one, and the ba­boon num­ber two. When an an­i­mal strips a tree, there will be small pieces of bark scat­tered around on the ground. Dassies (and ba­boons too, I sus­pect) se­lec­tively eat the in­ner­most liv­ing layer of bark that lies di­rectly against the wood; the outer, dead lay­ers are left alone. I can’t see any bark ly­ing on the ground, which makes me think that hu­mans are the cul­prits in this case.

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