What a decade of data has shown
This month, dove hunters will be partaking in one of the most active wing-shooting seasons of the year. At about the same time, dove biologists will be closing out the busiest dove monitoring project in the United States: six weeks of nation-wide dove banding.
The dove hunter and the dove bander each play a crucial role in the largest dove data collection effort in the country: the annual capture, banding and recovery of more than 46,000 wild mourning doves in the U.S.
Dove banding occurs each year in Pennsylvania from early July through mid-August. In more than 20 counties, Game Commission personnel begin spreading seed at trap sites in mid-June. In late June, wire cages appear near the bait piles as the seed continues to appear.
In early July, eager doves find that the wire contraptions are now blocking access to the free food, but as luck would have it, there are convenient tunnels leading to the delicious seed. Once inside the trap, birds continue to feed contentedly. Imagine a dove’s surprise then, when a human rushes up, pops the bird into a holding bag, places an aluminum band on its right leg, and quickly releases it.
The national banding program gathers data that is critically important to the National Dove Harvest Management Strategy. Setting seasons and bag limits requires a detailed understanding of key population factors including: 1) the annual survival of adult and juvenile doves; 2) the annual recruitment of young doves into the fall population, and; 3) the proportion of adult and juvenile doves that are harvested each year. None of these estimates would be possible without a comprehensive and sustained banding effort among federal and state wildlife agencies.
Dove Hunter Reports
All of the work required to band these 46,000 doves each year would be meaningless without dove hunters. When a successful hunter harvests a banded dove, he or she reports the band number and harvest location of the bird to the national Bird Banding Laboratory. Bands are engraved with a toll-free number (1-800-327-BAND) and a web address (www.reportband.gov) that make reporting simple and quick. Without this “encounter” or “recovery” information, the time and effort that goes into banding doves would be nearly worthless. Banding information is only meaningful when a banded bird is recovered at a later date. The hunter benefits, too, by receiving a report of when and where the dove was banded.
More than three quarters of all band returns come from dove hunters. Randomly finding a dead banded dove on the landscape does occur, but these random encounters count for less than 10 percent of all recovered bands.
What have we learned?
You might be surprised at the important information gleaned from those shiny little rings on the ankle of a dove. For instance, we know that most doves banded in Pennsylvania are recovered in Pennsylvania. That tells managers that the majority of the annual Pennsylvania dove harvest is derived from Pennsylvania-breeding birds. In fact, the majority of Pennsylvania mourning doves are homebodies, traveling an average of 54 miles from their banding location to the point of recovery.
By tracking the encounters of a banded cohort after banding, we can get a sense of the typical life span of wild mourning doves. For instance, in the bar graph, notice that the birds banded in 2006 (shown in deep purple) continue to be recovered in smaller and smaller proportions through 2011 Since we began intensive dove banding in Pennsylvania, we’ve learned that the typical life span (i.e. the average age of recovered birds) is 1.2 years.
For doves banded in Pennsylvania, the longest life span on record is that of a bird that was at least 8½ years old. This bird was banded as an adult near Reading in 2005, and was harvested by a hunter less than 2 miles away in December 2012.
Together, these pieces of information, provided through the collaboration of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies, and dove hunters, provide a glimpse into the welfare of the mourning dove population. This data feeds directly into population models that determine the season length and daily bag limit of mourning doves from year to year. Without an ongoing dove banding effort, the setting of sustainable mourning dove seasons would be based on guesswork rather than science. By carefully calibrating dove harvest regulations with annual population dynamics, a sustainable dove season can be enjoyed by today’s dove hunters as well as future generations who follow us into the dove fields.
By: Lisa Williams
Pennsylvania Game Commission
Game Bird Biologist