Here’s how a cactus and bird join up to help each other out.
White-winged Doves fly to the Sonoran Desert from Southern Mexico every April. They arrive just as the creamy blossoms of the Saguaro cactus are breaking open, releasing their sweet fragrance. The doves replenish themselves with Saguaro nectar containing water, sugar and protein. A sports drink couldn’t be better formulated to match their needs. In return, the doves carry pollen from one tall cactus to another, ensuring the flowers will set fruit.
Saguaro flowers bloom for a single night, opening up after dark and closing when the sun is high the following day. Nectar feeding bats get first dibs on the new blossoms. Come dawn, White-winged Doves feast at the flowers, joined by Gila Woodpeckers and Curved-bill Thrashers. Bees also mob the sweet blooms.
White-winged Doves mate in early May, and build their flimsy nests in the highest tree branches. The hatching of the eggs in June coincides perfectly with the fruiting of the Saguaro. Nestlings first drink crop milk regurgitated by mom and dad, but soon transition to the pulp and seeds of the Saguaro fruits along with seeds from other desert plants.
Saguaro fruits ripen at the hottest, driest time of the summer. The juicy fruit helps many desert animals survive until the monsoon rains arrive. As birds feast on the fruits and fly about excreting the seeds, new baby Saguaros are planted across the desert. White-winged Dove’s digestive system is brutal on cactus seeds, but doves still help their Saguaro partners when they carry bits of dripping fruit to their nestlings. Seeds dropped beneath nests await the promise of summer rains.
In September White-winged Doves break off the cozy relationship with their cactus cohorts and migrate back to the southern regions of Mexico.