The collared-dove invasion of ArkansasLoathsome Dove

By Keith Sutton Originally Published September 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 27, 2013 at 11:22 a.m.
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Keith Sutton/Contributing Photographer

The black band on the back of the collared-dove’s neck gives the bird its common name and is a very distinguishing field mark.

"Holy smokes! What the heck was that?” my dove-hunting buddy asked excitedly. A bird resembling a super-sized mourning dove had just flown past us in the sunflower field we were hunting and landed on a nearby power line.

It was in the early 1990s when this observation took place. At the time, neither of us was aware that an alien dove had begun spreading across The Natural State. As we moved closer to the bird, trying to get a better look, we heard it make a three-syllable call: koo-KOOO-kook.

“That’s definitely not a regular ol’ mourning dove,” my friend said. “Their call is much different from the sounds that big bird is making.”

My hunting companion had binoculars in his hunting-coat pocket. We used those to get an up-close view of the bird, which was obviously a member of the dove family. The bird’s coloration was very pale — grayish-tan like a mourning dove but much lighter in overall tone. The most noticeable characteristic, one totally absent on mourning doves, was a narrow black band on the back of the bird’s neck. The tail was squared off at the end rather than pointed like a mourning dove’s. Quite obvious as well was the bird’s size. This creature appeared to be almost half again as big as a mourning dove.

As we tried to move even closer, the bird was startled and took flight. It quickly hightailed it away with a flash of white tail feathers and a flurry of dark-tipped wings.

When I returned home, I went to my office and pulled a copy of Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of North America from the shelf. I turned to the pages showing members of the dove family and soon identified the bird as a Eurasian collared-dove. I then got on the Internet to find out more about this new bird and discovered quite an interesting story.

Eurasian collared-doves are native to the Middle East and North Africa. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the birds quickly spread throughout Europe and eastern Asia. They were introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s as pets and extended their range farther after several collared-doves escaped from a pet shop during a mid-1970s burglary. The shop owner then released the rest of the flock of 50 doves. Others were set free on the island of Guadeloupe when a volcano threatened eruption. From these two sites, the birds likely spread to Florida, where they were first found nesting just south of Miami in 1982.

At first, Floridians failed to recognize the Eurasian collared-doves that set up housekeeping in their state because this species closely resembles the ringed turtledove, another non-native bird already well-established in the Sunshine State at that time. Both birds have dark bands on the back of the neck and squared-off tail feathers, but the turtledove is smaller, lighter gray and has a two-part call.

Since their introduction into Florida, Eurasian collared-doves have spread rapidly throughout much of the U.S., especially in open agricultural areas and urban/suburban tracts with lots of bird feeders. In fact, no species of bird has ever colonized North America at the speed with which the collared-dove has marched across the continent. This non-native bird has rapidly adapted to human-altered environments from Florida to Alaska. Only in portions of the Midwest and Northeast are collared-doves largely absent.

According to records kept by the Arkansas Audubon Society, Eurasian collared-doves were first sighted in Arkansas in 1989 near Harrison. In the years that followed, reports started flowing in from throughout the state, with the greatest density of sightings in south Arkansas. Prior to 1998, juvenile birds were seen several times near Magnolia, leading experts to speculate that the birds were nesting in our state. No nests were found, however. Then in 1998, in an area southeast of Jasmine in Prairie County, the first nest was discovered. It is quite likely collared-doves now nest in every county in the state, as they are commonly seen from Fort Smith to Jonesboro, Mountain Home to El Dorado and all points in between.

Should you be one of the thousands of Arkansans who hunt doves this fall, you may want to be on the lookout for this bird. While hunters in the state are allowed to kill only 15 mourning doves daily during the open season and to possess no more than 45, they’re free to kill and keep as many of the invasive Eurasian collared-doves as they want. The species is considered an exotic in Arkansas and the rest of the U.S. and is not protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act or Natural State wildlife laws. There is no daily limit or possession limit on collared-doves, although they can only be hunted here during the Sept. 1-Oct. 20 and Dec. 21-Jan. 9 dove seasons. Hunters also should be sure to leave an identifiable portion of each bird intact until reaching home. Otherwise, if a game warden checks you, he will likely count the bird toward your mourning dove limit.

We still have much to learn about the expansion of the collared-dove’s range in North America, but information submitted by feeder watchers to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is helping us better understand this alien invasion. Researchers at Cornell were interested in examining the potential impact of collared-doves on other dove species, such as the mourning dove. Many invasive species have a negative impact on native species, particularly species that are similar to the invader. Contrary to expectations, however, researchers found that the abundance of native dove species was generally greater at sites with collared-doves than at sites without collared-doves.

Researchers also wanted to identify which types of habitats the collared-doves were using. Linking satellite-derived land-cover data with FeederWatch data gathered from 1999 to 2008, the researchers found that collared-doves were more likely to occur in landscapes that had been highly modified by human activity than in forested landscapes. Many invasive species are successful because, like the collared-dove, they can readily adapt to suburban life.

The species continues to spread across the continent and grow in abundance. The collared-doves naturally disperse in a northwesterly direction, so the most rapid range expansion has taken place along a southeast-to-northwest path from Florida to Alaska. It appears to be only a matter of time, however, before the gaps in the species’ range in the Midwest and Northeast are colonized.

In the meantime, those who enjoy bird-watching, and those of us who are dove hunters, can take pleasure in the fact that the beautiful, super-sized collared-dove provides a target for our leisure-time activities.

None Keith Sutton can be reached at .

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