The state’s newest invasive species of birds has conquered the Magnolia State and is now a common resident of backyards, farms and all points in between from the Tennessee border to the Gulf Coast.
The good news is that the impact of the Eurasian collared-dove, at least for now, seems to be minimal on native species — particularly the mourning dove, a long-time favorite of hunters. In fact, the coming of the Eurasian collared-dove offers more opportunities for sportsmen and birders alike.
“Oh yeah, the (Eurasian collared-dove) has become real popular, especially in the Delta,” said a salesman at Van’s Sporting Goods near Brandon. “They taste good, are larger so you get more meat per bird and they don’t count against your (mourning dove) bag limit.”
According to Scott Baker, a wildlife biologist who leads the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ Dove Field Program, it is nearly impossible to taste the difference between the Eurasian collared-dove and the mourning dove.
Identifying the new dove seems to be the biggest challenge. The Eurasian collared-dove superficially resembles the mourning dove — the black “collar” around the nape of the neck is not visible from a distance, and they share many habits and habitat with their cousins. However, there are distinctive differences.
The Eurasian collared-dove is larger than a mourning dove with rounded, black-tipped wings and broad, squared tail that shows white feathers in flight. It is more like the native rock dove, or common pigeon, in its appearance, and its call is similar to the pigeon’s “coo” as opposed to the mourning dove’s “sad” lilting song for which it gets its name.
However, hunters and birders alike are getting more and more chances to positively identify the bird as its range continues to grow. Introduced in the Bahamas in the 1970s — allegedly from birds that escaped during a robbery of a pet shop — Eurasian collared-doves reached Florida in the 1980s and quickly expanded their range across most of North America. According to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they rate a five out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and were not on the 2012 Watch List.
Their arrival has seemed to have little to no impact on the mourning dove. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services’ “Population Status, 2013,” Mourning Dove Call-Count Survey data show that mourning dove abundance over the last 10 years in eastern management units (EMU) that include Mississippi has remained unchanged. The only EMU states that had evidence of a change in mourning dove abundance from 2004-2013 were Louisiana and New York, and the trend was positive in both states.
How many Eurasian collared-doves now call Mississippi home is unknown. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population at eight million with 5 percent living in the U.S., but there is not a hard figure on the population of Eurasian collared-doves in Mississippi.
However, the collared-dove’s numbers are growing in the Magnolia State, though the growth has slowed over the last decade or so, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS’ North American Breeding Bird Survey finds the average trend has been an increase of 33.14 percent each year from 1966-2012, but 28.40 percent per year from 2002-2012.
Still, the Eurasian collared-dove deserves monitoring, according to Nick Winstead, ornithologist with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. “I have not heard anyone raising an alarm,” Winstead said, “but you never know what tomorrow will bring.”
Because it is not a native species, the Eurasian collared-dove is not protected from hunting. Hunters are allowed to take collared-doves only during the official dove-hunting season, but there is no bag limit.
Finding Eurasian collared-doves is one thing; shooting them is another. While hunters find the Eurasian collared-dove a tasty, tempting target, they are not always available to shooters even where the birds exist, according to one landowner.
“All the collared doves want to do is hang out at the shed,” said Chuck Perry of Perry Farms in Yazoo City (www.huntperryfarms.com) with a chuckle. “They won’t fly in the dove fields. Hunters on my property aren’t taking those birds.”