Hunt Eurasian Collared Doves Now
While driving by a few favorite dove hunting haunts with my spaniels, we spotted them – Eurasians, or collared doves! Mac, my elder springer, was sitting in the front seat of our Rover and we looked at each other with youthful excitement – like two kids discovering a new candy bar at the grocery. At ten, my faithful companion had personified. Izzy our puppy, didn’t quite understand what was going on, but was eager to learn and, she could sense our excitement.
The Eurasians, half again bigger in size then a mourning dove, with their fan tail and lighter coloration gave them away. I parked, looked at the dogs and felt a primal, but kindred spirit well up between us – our team was on the hunt. I uncased my old 12 bore double on the far side of the Rover from the birds. Our approach would have to be sneaky. The puppy would have to be on the leash to begin with. A small family flock of our newest game birds were hanging out in the shade in a cluster of ancient Junipers just outside of town. Other Eurasian collared doves could be seen in the distance loafing on wires over-looking a wheat field. A deep ditch lie in between our parking spot and the birds. With the spaniels at heel, we slipped into the ditch, crouched and walked in slow and low toward an almost certain jump shot.
It seems that these prolific game birds love trees, in fact they spend most of the year up there breeding and raising two chicks at a time producing three to four broods per year – as many as six in warm climates! It is no wonder then that their numbers have been reported doubling even tripling in a year. This exotic species has now spread to 48 of our states, including Alaska. Eurasian doves are not considered migratory, but are dispersive and expansive. Once they have colonized in new habitat, they stay put there year round. Birds seeking new territory or explorer birds, eventually fly on many miles to new habitat and expansion or dispersal occurs. Once colonization is completed, the cycle is then repeated.
While the Eurasian collared dove seems to be attracted to populated areas like small towns and suburbs, they are also drawn to agricultural fields and are increasingly being seen in the same fields where mourning doves are harvested. With each morning dove season, more Eurasians are showing up in game bags. An invasive species, Eurasian collared doves are not protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, therefore the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has left the management of collared doves up to individual states. A non-native, invasive species like the Eurasian collared dove is treated by most states with a no limit, year round hunting season. The bonus is that collared doves are very challenging game birds to hunt. Knowing as much about them as possible will give hunters an edge.
Historically, the Eurasian dove’s origin is India and they quickly spread to Turkey. In the early 20th century they began expanding across North Africa and Europe. By the mid-1950s they reached Great Britain. Eurasian collared doves now occur as far north as Iceland and above the Arctic Circle in Norway. With a European population estimated at 7 million, these doves are still expanding on that continent, making them one of the most successful biological invaders among bird species.
So how did they come to the US? As the story goes, believe it or not, beginning in the Bahamas. A group of Eurasian collared doves escaped from a pet shop during a mid1970s burglary. The pet store owner says he then released the rest of the flock of approximately 50 birds. Others were set free from captivity on the island of Guadeloupe when a volcano threatened eruption. From these two sites, the Eurasians made their way over to Florida by the mid 1980’s. Once in the US, collared doves were initially thought to be the smaller African turtle dove species, a cousin, hence the proliferation of the Eurasian species carried on virtually unnoticed. This allowed these invaders to spread rapidly before ornithologists realized a new species had arrived. They appeared in large numbers in northeast Texas in 1995 and moved on from there. Almost two decades later and I am now hunting them in Colorado.
Eurasian collared doves seem to jump hundreds of miles from developed landscapes to similar habitat – small town to small town. Ornithologists call this “jump” dispersal, which is characterized by long distance movement of a few individual explorer birds with larger numbers eventually back-filling in from behind. Ample water and feed aid their expansion into more arid regions. Collared doves tend to concentrate in small towns around grain elevators, feed stores and livestock feeding operations. Also, the practice of back yard bird feeding provides an ample source of food in a well irrigated environment. These doves need supplemental water to digest nutrient-rich seeds. Interestingly, the Eurasian collared dove is one of very few bird species that can drink with their head down, submerging their bill and sucking water – just like drinking through a straw. Suburban landscape irrigation makes water available on a consistent basis and also increases the growth rate of seed producing plants and weeds in the area.
The worry is, these big, prolific doves will impact our native mourning dove species by competing for nest sites and for the grains both species love. Also, there is always the fear of new disease. No negative interactions have been reported as of yet and both dove species are observed feeding and roosting together. Through sheer numbers, collared doves may displace native doves from some areas. Although much remains to be discovered about their impact on native doves, Eurasian collared doves are here to stay and they have already been nicknamed “beige starlings” and “euro-trash” by some skeptics. Other non-native invasive bird species like starlings and house sparrows have done the same without much consequence. Any way you look at it – it is what it is, so I tend to see this invader as a new opportunity that will only grow in terms of more birds to hunt with each passing year!
Eurasian doves typically breed and nest close to developed areas where food and water resources are abundant and there are trees for nesting. The female lays two white eggs in a stick nest, which she incubates during the night and the male takes his shift during the day. Incubation takes fourteen to eighteen days, with the young at fledgling after fifteen to nineteen days. Breeding occurs in spring, summer and fall. Winter breeding is more frequent in the south. When you do the math, even a couple of successful broods each year can significantly increase the collared dove population over time.
The Eurasian cock-bird’s mating display is one of ritual flight and appears more pigeon-like. This air dance consists of a rapid and near-vertical climb to height, followed by a long glide in a downward circling pattern with his wings held below his body in an inverted “V” shape. Everyday flight is more direct, utilizing fast, choppy wing beats without much gliding.
The song of the collared dove is “coo-COO-coo”, repeated many times. It is phonetically similar to the Greek decaocto from which the bird gets its zoological name: Streptopelia decaocto. The bird also makes a harsh and loud screeching call that lasts a couple of seconds. This occurs usually in flight and just before a landing. One way of describing this loud screeching call is “hah-hah” which has been likened to the sound of a choking cat. Collared doves are almost always seen in pairs and like many birds, remain loyal to their mates. The oldest recorded Eurasian collared dove out in the wild lived 13 years 8 months.
The largest populations of Eurasian doves are typically found around farms where spilled grain is frequent near grain storage or where livestock are fed. They are a gregarious species and sizable winter flocks can form where there is a good food supply. Eurasian doves eat mainly seed and cereal grain such as millet, sunflower, milo, wheat, and corn. They also eat berries and green parts of plants, as well as insects. In colonized areas, flocks most commonly number between ten and fifty, but flocks of up to ten thousand have been recorded in the UK. They avoid areas with heavy forest cover and/or extremely cold temperatures which may explain their absence from the Rocky Mountains and our northeastern states.
Watch for Eurasian doves roosting on utility poles, wires, and tall trees in open areas near feeding sites. Mainly ground foragers, they fly down from a perch to peck at grain and seeds in farm fields and spillage sites. Flocks gather in these prime spots. Although they can feed peacefully in mixed flocks, Eurasian doves will also chase off other birds, including mourning doves, and blue jays.
A recent study of the economic impact of dove hunting in Texas for example, showed that dove hunting generated nearly $200 million annually in retail sales, provided for more than 3,700 jobs and gleaned more than $11 million in tax revenue. If this exotic invader doesn’t prove to be a nuisance, the Eurasian collared dove could become another element in helping people make a living from the land. Dove hunting in Colorado is also very big business. In fact, doves are hunted by more Coloradans than any other game bird species!
Hunters may at first have difficulty distinguishing a Eurasian collared dove from a mourning dove. Outside of the morning dove season, hunters need to be able to differentiate between the two dove species to hunt the Eurasians, especially in spring and summer when the morning doves are here! Eurasian collared doves are much larger and lighter in color than mourning doves and they have a square tail. The underside of their fan tail is white at the end and black near the base. If you are close enough, you can see the black crescent collar on the back of their neck. While the flight of the Eurasian is a bit slower than the mourning dove, this new game bird is by no means an aerial slouch. Putting one on the dinner table is still quite the wing shooter’s challenge. When I bagged my first Eurasian doves in September, I really enjoyed the challenge of following their lines across the sky. Bagging one was like getting a bonus during the dove season. And, they taste just as good as mourning doves do. With breast medallions half again larger than a mourning dove, they make for fine table fare. I like to grill them just like mourning doves with a jalapeno pepper stuffed inside and the breast wrapped in bacon. And, they are good fileted and cooked on low in gravy or marinade.
This past winter, I observed a noticeable increase in the number of Eurasian doves in my neighborhood, as well as in my country hunt areas. In addition, I noted seeing a few mourning doves throughout the cold of winter. I wondered if these few mourning doves hadn’t been influenced somehow by the hardier Eurasian invaders. All these fast flying targets can create some excitement for the wing shooter’s eye. Like the old saying goes: there is no time like the present. In most states, wing shooters can pursue Eurasian collared doves now. Typical holiday breaks that fall outside the bird hunting seasons are now options for this adventure. Also, summer vacation is the perfect time to take a kid out hunting for collared doves.
My son Matthew is almost nine and has never felt pressured to show an interest in hunting. Just last month he announced that he wanted to get his Hunter’s Safety Certificate. His little sister Marley is not one to be left out of an adventure, so I am sure she will be next. You can imagine my delight. They want to shoot birds over our new spaniel pup Izzy. It turns out that Matthew may be more of “Izzy’s person” than I am. Of course I feed her, take her out and train her to hunt – not to mention the fact that I shot prairie chickens, sharptail grouse, pheasants and ducks over her last fall. I of course would be thrilled if she started to hunt for Matthew too! What better way to introduce my children to hunting than to pursue collared doves with our pup during our summer vacation. I have the perfect little single shot hammer gun that will get them started safely. I can hardly wait. But in the meantime, they can tag along – tomorrow if they want.
While perhaps futile, just the idea of heading outdoors on an adventure to help eradicate the county side of a pest bird while having fun doing it is by definition, a wing shooting bonus! Successfully bagging Eurasian collared doves can be accomplished over decoys. And yes, you can find Eurasian dove decoys, but don’t forget to use the moving decoy for the best results. Eurasians can also be hunted like mourning doves by catching them in flight between the trees and their water or food source. However, the method that I prefer is spot, stalk and flush. This may change if their numbers expand into the future as predicted. My kids seem intrigued when I share my Eurasian dove hunting adventures with them – out stalking these invasive game birds.
The ancient junipers were loaded with collared doves and swayed in the wind as I imagined the flush the dogs were about to produce. We paused in the ditch and peeked through the grass from about thirty yards out before taking one last deep breath. The Eurasians were getting restless as one big bird flew out and circled above us. We ducked back down just in time. I could plainly see the black collar on its neck. This very light colored dove then flew back into the thick junipers, disappearing within. “Flush”, I commanded and unleashed the pup; Mac was already on his way. I took about ten more quick steps before the birds made their appearance. A big plump collared dove flushed from a juniper crossing left. I instinctively took that bird with the open barrel from my turn of the century English double, a gun that was built about the same time these invader doves had reached Europe. I could hear wing beats flushing and birds piling out from the backside of the dense juniper stand and out of sight. The thought occurred to me that I may have a chance at my first double on Eurasian collared doves. Izzy then came bounding back through and sure enough, a pair of birds flushed crossing right. It was too much pressure for me, my first double opportunity – my pup’s first Eurasian experience… and I missed. In the meantime, Mac retrieved the downed bird and was waiting to deliver it to hand. I stood there with an empty gun reaching for the bird when Izzy flushed one last holdout bird and of course it flew right over my head. All I could do is look at that collared dove and shout “Good girl” as if somehow that would make up for my lack of attention. I politely thanked Mac, apologized to Izzy and then threw out the collared dove for her to retrieve. I wanted my pup to get a good whiff and taste of this new game bird – taking full advantage of the opportunity to give her some live bird experience. For a brief moment I lamented my miss, but then I smiled at the thought of a year round season with no limit. I could hardly believe it. I knew that I’d wake up tomorrow and if I felt like it, I could hunt Eurasian collared-doves now!
Feel free to contact Scott Winston at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-450-5013 or 303-250-0302.