Streptopelia? Huh. The Eurasian collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto) feeding in the Deer Lodge, Montana, front yard today turned out not to be mourning doves after all. That was a relief. Local dove calls had been somewhat unpleasant all summer long, producing a sound that was just plain (to my ear, at least) not nice. Why? I’d been both puzzled and irritated. When I was growing up on a ranch west of Drummond, Montana, just thirty-seven miles down the road from Deer Lodge, the dove calls were soothing. Comforting. Why did they sound so icky this year?
The answer turned out to be simple. Mourning doves, Zenaida macroura, are native to Montana. Eurasian collared doves are not. As a kid, I’d been listening to mourning doves. Guaranteed.
Even the names get the point across. Zanaida macroura (mourning dove) sounds kind of exotic and sexy. Streptopelia decaocto sounds like a horrible infection.
Still, it was a joyous thing, seeing the invader doves gathered under the spruce trees, at least a dozen of them. Most of them, most of the time, stayed on the ground, pecking away. A few, especially some of the juveniles who wanted to get going southward out of the cooler weather, perched on the top rail of the fence. Out came the Canon PowerShot camera.
A flash of orange under-wings caught my eye. No dove, that was a young northern flicker, Colaptes auratus, a much loved woodpecker (except when it’s jack-hammering rotten eaves on your home, seeking insects). There’s an old belief that when a flicker cries, it’s going to rain, but I remember not the call of the flicker. I knew it when I was myself a juvenile, but that’s been more than a half century ago. A lot more. Might there be more flickers in the yard gathering? Yes. Yes, there was one. Another juvenile. Catching the bird in flight would be Mission Impossible as these birds do not mess around when they hit the air, but a still photo would be a lot better than nothing.
When did the Eurasian collared dove arrive in Montana? Fieldguide.mt.gov has this to say:
The Eurasian Collared Dove was introduced from Europe and has rapidly colonized North America. The first record of the species in Montana dates to 1997, but they are now widespread (Montana Bird Distribution Committee 2013). They may initially be confused with our native Mourning Dove, but are larger and heavier, have a broad square tail, and have a black collar on the back of their neck.
Okay, I was listening to native mourning doves in the forties and fifties. The bigger, less musical invader didn’t arrive in Montana until 1997. So, how do we know for sure that these are Eurasian collared doves? First, let’s look at the tail. Is it square?
These doves are clearly bigger and heavier than the mourning doves, as stated. Their black collars (around the back of the neck, more of a horseshoe, open in front) are not always visible from every angle on every bird, but for the most part…yeah. That works for identification.
WHOA! To my astonishment, multiple websites state in no uncertain terms that these doves do not migrate. They stay through the winter and can tolerate temperatures (according to some reports) down to twenty or even thirty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I certainly don’t remember seeing them here last winter, but it was a hard season for me and perhaps I simply didn’t notice? That means my interpretation of the disgruntled juvenile’s attitude is off by a bit. It must be saying, “Mom, why do we have to stay here?”
Additionally, the Eurasian collared dove is unprotected and can be hunted throughout the year in many areas, though it would be a good idea to double check your particular state’s statutes before loading your shotgun. Various hunters rave about how yummy these larger-than-mourning-doves are. Even at their turbo-dove size, though, the entire birds only weigh 5.3 ounces (average) per flyer. Personally, since I quit hunting at age twenty-six and this flock is in town anyway, I’ll stick to domestic chicken.
If you do decide to target a few (or a few dozen) Eurasian collared doves because your wife doesn’t mind plucking feathers from a winged critter that doesn’t even have enough meat on its bones to make a decent sandwich, please make sure you don’t accidentally blast any mourning doves out of the sky. Those are protected.
A most exhaustive, informative forum on these birds can be found here.