How many of you have heard of collared doves? Who is this invader that some of you have noticed around your bird feeders or in your game bags?
It's a new kid on the block, and it may already be in your neighborhood. If not, it will be coming soon. This new bird is masquerading as a mourning dove, when in reality it is a Eurasian collared dove.
Its story is captivating. A century ago, this species was found primarily on the Indian subcontinent, although its range extended slightly into Europe. In the early 1900s, however, the species began expanding its range significantly and by 1950 had reached the British Isles.
Today, collared doves are living above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia.
When the collared dove first bred in Britain, it received the highest legal protection, and in 1963 a boy was fined for shooting one in East Lothian. Legal protection was removed in 1981, by which time it had passed from being a rarity to being regarded as a pest.
By the 1970s, Eurasian collared doves were introduced into the Bahamas, and their populations soon expanded around these islands.
What happened next is unclear. At some point in the early 1980s, Eurasian collared doves migrated, without assistance, from the Bahamas to Florida. It was not until the mid-1980s that ornithologists realized the suddenly prolific and quickly spreading “turtle doves” they were watching were actually Eurasian collared doves.
From Florida, it expanded rapidly north and west, reaching Georgia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and beyond. They are especially numerous in Louisiana around Cameron Parish. In Mississippi, the invasion first was noticed in 1996, along the coast and in the area around Greenwood.
They are larger and more aggressive than the native mourning dove. Generally gray-brown with vinous pink flush, especially on chest, they have a distinctive black collar marking on nape, edged in white, not always visible in the field.
Another way to pick out these birds is by their tails, which are squared and very different from the V-shaped tails of traditional doves.
In addition, it has a distinctly different call, sounding like koo-kooo, koo with the accent on the second beat.
The feeding habits of the Eurasian collared dove are very similar to those of the mourning dove. Cereal grains and small seeds are their preferred source of nourishment, but they will also eat berries, insects, small birdseeds, and breadcrumbs.
The collared and mourning doves seem to tolerate each other with little aggression or displacement on nesting areas or territory. But the verdict is still out on this before a definitive statement can be made one way or the other.
Bottom line, a dove is a dove - whether Eurasian or mourning, and the only difference between them is their appearance. They all taste the same.
Most states have no daily or possession limits on the Eurasian collared dove. Check your state's regulations. The season for them is the same as mourning doves.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service encourages hunters who bag banded doves to call the toll-free telephone number (800-327-BAND) to report the band number and other important information.
So like the armadillo and coyote, the Delta has been invaded once again, but unlike these two, the Eurasian collared dove is good to eat.
Wayne Capooth - outdoorsman, writer, and physician - has hunted extensively in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas for 50 years and has written four books. On the Internet, go to www.waterfowling.org.