Mourning doves are one of the most widespread and abundant birds in all of North America; their numbers can be attributed to their annual brood size that ranges from 2-6 individuals. Furthermore, they have acclimated to rapid urbanization in the United States and have thus filled new niches, allowing them to be a prolific species.
Mourning doves are easily identified by their “oahoo-oo-oo-oo” call. They have long tail feathers are completely gray (light to dark gray throughout body) with black dots on their wings. In urban environments, they are often seen roosting on building ledges or telephone poles and wires.
They are also the most hunted bird in North America, with an average take of about 70 million individuals per year. The hunting status of these species varies from state to state and their protection in some states is largely because of their symbolism to “peace” and “love.”
Above: Adult breeding mourning dove.
Interestingly, the mourning dove is one of few birds that is capable of feeding their young a highly nutritious crop milk, which is secreted from the bird’s crop lining; both male and female adult birds are capable of producing crop milk. Generally, newly hatched doves will be fed this milk during the first few days of their life, gradually though their diet will be replaced by primarily seeds. This is likely a reason for their high brood success and furthermore, population expansion and success.
Mourning doves are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) and therefore have specific rules and federal regulations that are applicable (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015). Those regulations are as follows: 1) migratory game birds may not be hunted with an unplugged shotgun, 2) migratory species may not be hunted from a motorized vehicle, 3) migratory species must be hunted within legal shooting hours, 4) migratory game birds cannot be shot during the closed season, see state regulations for specific season dates, 5) all effort must be made to retrieve all doves that you kill or cripple, and prevent wanton waste, 6) only one daily bag limit, as set by specific state regulations, may be harvested and kept in possession in any one day, and 7) birds cannot be kept at any place or in the custody of a person other than yourself without birds being properly tagged with your signature, address and date you killed them (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013). Federal regulations also mandate that all hunters of migratory species enroll in the Harvest Information Program (HIP) through purchase of an Upland Game Stamp through your local state Fish and Game Department (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2016). On top of Federal regulations, each state has specific hunting rules and guidelines pertaining to the take of Mourning Doves. It is the hunter’s responsibility to know the state regulations in the state which they are hunting. A violation of State migratory game bird regulations will also be considered a violation of Federal regulations (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2013). Mourning doves have hunting seasons in 38 of the lower 48 states not including the New England states, New York and New Jersey. Though there is no biological reason why mourning doves are not hunted in New York State, it remains a legislative issue that requires further political support (Department of Environmental Conservation, 2015).
Mourning doves are widespread throughout the United States, Canada, and south to Panama. Mourning doves maintain a very healthy population of over 500 million individuals throughout the United States alone. Their population remains stable and they are a bird of least concern.
During the winter months, many will migrate south, however there are many populations that remain resident to any one area throughout the United States. Their breeding season generally begins in the early spring and will last through October. They produce a brood size ranging from 2-6 individuals, however the greater their brood size, the lower their survivorship.
Mourning doves have a life span of about 1.5 years, which helps to explain why their population remains so stable. Regardless of the amount of young they produce; they are not a long-lived bird and they are heavily hunted in 38 states within the U.S.
Above: Mourning doves roosting on a telephone wire.
NUISANCE MOURNING DOVES
Because they are so widespread and abundant, mourning doves can cause potential damage to aviation, homes, and agriculture. Furthermore, because they rely on a diet of seeds, they are capable of spreading weeds and unwanted vegetation over great distances.
Mourning doves show a preference for corn, small grains, sorghum, millets, peas, sedges, sunflower and pokeweed. Because of their great abundance and preference for many agricultural seeds, they may cause damage to agricultural fields. However, doves generally prefer a more bare and open habitat where they can forage for food, thus it is unlikely to find them within a densely packed agricultural field; they would however, be likely to forage on the outskirts of a field where agriculture is likely far less dense.
Aside from their foraging behavior, mourning doves are unlikely to cause much (if any) land damage directly. They may however introduce unwanted weeds and other vegetation to private property, which may be unwanted or damage causing.
Because of their large numbers and acclimation to urban environments in the United States, mourning doves can become a pest and cause considerable damage to private property an may even be a vector for disease. Mourning doves roost in large numbers and will thus defecate in the area as well; their waste can become a vector for sickness and parasites alike (though uncommon). Furthermore, they can present an issue to drivers, as vehicles frequently strike mourning doves.
MOURNING DOVE-AIRCRAFT COLLISIONS
The FAA lists mourning doves as the 17th most hazardous wildlife threat to aviation. Though they are small and lightweight birds, their numbers and potential flocking behavior is capable of causing minor to severe damage to an aircraft. Furthermore, they are considered a prey species and are hunted by larger common raptors such as red-tailed hawks and falcons. These much larger raptors pose a greater threat to aviation because of their large size, slow “soaring” flight behavior, and large weight.
In 2002 alone, there were 132 mourning dove birdstrikes identified in the United States alone, causing an estimated $500,000 in damage, working out to be roughly $3,787 per bird. These numbers become even more alarming when the red-tailed hawk (a common predator in the United States) was identified as the culprit in 24 birdstrikes, totaling $634,000 in damages that same year.
Proper management of this species is key in order to minimize the amount of damage and potential threats caused directly and indirectly by the mourning dove.
Above: Plane taking off in New York, surrounded by mourning doves.
There are many management strategies available for someone attempting to reduce the damage or danger caused by the presence of mourning doves. These strategies fall into two categories: lethal and non0lethal control. It is important to note that there is no quick method to remove mourning doves for good. Several methods are often needed over an extended period of time.
Above: Mourning dove killed by a Cooper’s Hawk.
Non-lethal control is generally a preferred method relative to lethal control because of its lasting effects on large groups rather than several individuals. These methods are most effective if used soon after the arrival of mourning doves; they are meant to make the habitat undesirable and/or frightening. Using multiple types of control increases the chances of successful management, as species will often habituate to a single repeated control strategy.
Mourning doves utilize a broad range of habitats for foraging, but generally show a preference for bare ground. Furthermore, they will nest in many environments as well such as: shrubs, pines, homes, ledges, etc.. The best way to modify a habitat is by using bird spikes on potential roosting or nesting areas to deter them.
One could also modify their land to include sparsely placed vegetation to make the land less attractive for seed foraging. Lastly, by minimizing their preferred food source of seeds, one could remove any preferred vegetation, thus making the habitat more unattractive to the birds.
Mourning doves can be hazed by chasing them and making loud sounds in the habitat you wish them not to reside. Hazing is most effective when done repeatedly over a long period of time.
Pyrotechnics such as Bangers™ and Screamers™ can be an effective frightening device for mourning doves; best results will be gained by repeated exposure. Prior to using them however, be sure to investigate the legality of using such devices in your area.
Scarecrows and models of hawks/eagles can also be an effective frightening device, however, birds can easily habituate to the presence of scarecrows, using other hazing or scare tactics along with a scarecrow will yield better results.
Though there is no chemical that will remove mourning doves, pesticides do exist that could remove plants, which produce the preferred food source of mourning doves. By limiting their food source, mourning doves will find the habitat less attractive. However, permits are required to use non-commercial pesticides; contact your local USDA office to learn more.
Relocation of mourning doves is a relatively ineffective way to deter them from a habitat. Removing a small portion of individuals will have little to no effect on the mourning dove populations. Furthermore, capturing doves can be a time consuming and expensive venture.
Lethal control of mourning doves is a relatively ineffective means of mitigation. Doves tend to flock, forage, and roost in large numbers and lethal control will only remove a small percentage of a larger group; this method will be expensive, time consuming and overall ineffective for population control.
By: Cody Baciuska
Loomacres Wildlife Management
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