Deer Lodge, Montana: Eurasian Collared Doves, Streptopelia Decaocto

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.

Beyond one of the two front yard spruce trees, a Eurasian collared dove perches on the fence.

Eurasian collared dove in front of tree.

A juvenile Eurasian collared dove wants to know, “When are we heading south, Mom? This north country’s co-ol-ld!”

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.

Juvenile northern flicker woodpecker, Colaptes auratus.

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?

Oh yeah. That’s a square tail, all right. Eurasian collared dove.

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.

Black “horseshoe” collar clearly visible on this Eurasian collared dove as it fluffs its feathers against the cooler Montana weather.

Black collars less visible on these going-away birds, but the square tails ID them as Eurasian collared doves nonetheless.

Good luck seeing the collars on these two.

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.

Dove, dove, and more dove.

Fluffed-up juvenile Eurasian collared dove.

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Juvenile.

4 thoughts on “Deer Lodge, Montana: Eurasian Collared Doves, Streptopelia Decaocto

  1. I love the doves around here. I sit out on the front porch in the morning and wake up to them cooing and watch therm flying up to perch up on the power wires. Daniel is learning to tell doves from cactus wrens, and roadrunners. We have quail running around the yard in little troops, and he is highly amused by the bunnies, goats and cows across the road and next door. He is also enamored of the horses and donkeys. People riding up and down the road every morning too. Of course, every vehicle gets excited oohs and aahs. He got a new tricycle today, and it has a wagon trailer. He is ready to learn how to pedal the tricycle now, and we will see how he does.

  2. I love the doves around there, too, because they’re mourning doves. At least the doves at the Border Fort were. I checked my post on those to compare. I’ve always loved the mourning dove’s call, but the Eurasian collared dove sounds much different to me. I really enjoy having them visit the yard; it’s the lone rangers in the distance with no mates all summer long that grate on my nerves a bit.

    Sounds like Daniel has a real sense of wonder toward life. Awesome.

  3. I have mourning doves that visit my bird bath or sit on the electrical wires in front of my house almost daily. I love to hear them coo.

    Your Eurasian doves are quite portly, but that makes sense since they stick around for the cold weather. They’re very pretty, Ghost.

  4. They are pretty and I do enjoy them. In this my second year here, they also seem to be getting a bit less wary of me in that I can sometimes open the house door and head for the driveway without all of them taking off immediately. The power lines run through the back yard but they don’t pay any attention to those. Other observers have noticed (and I concur) that this species is all about mature trees. They really like the two big spruces in the front yard. To me, though, the summer call of this dove sounds less like a coo and more like an avian expletive.

    Were I fortunate enough to photograph the deer in town, a post could be written on them as well. One tiny doe (who must have come in heat at a very young age) escorted triplet fawns across the street the other night as I was returning from the gym at around 1:00 a.m. The fawns were still in spots, extremely young for this time of year, but seemed to be growing well so far. Then just this morning, as I was driving down the street in Anaconda, a doe stood on the sidewalk, contemplating a chain link yard fence. Happily, she chose to jump the fence, accessing still-green yard grass and getting safely away from the street. This was around 11:30 a.m. under a bright blue sky.

    The deer who hang out in town have one huge advantage when it comes to hunting season. Heh.

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