To some this Labor Day weekend symbolizes a weekend on the lake while to others it means cookouts and spending an extra day with family. But to hunting enthusiasts across the state, this Sunday, Sept. 1means dove hunting and dove hunting is the traditional opening of the fall hunting seasons in Texas. Each year, about 400,000 hunters head afield in Texas in pursuit of doves.
Dove hunting generates more hunting effort in the state than any other game species except deer. The accompanying tourism dollars from dove hunting are increasingly important to rural landowners and communities.
Most people here in Clay County have probably seen dove. But did you know there are 10 species of doves and pigeons found in Texas? The two most numerous and economically important are mourning doves and white-winged doves. Mourning doves occur over most of North America but winter in the southern United States, Mexico and Central America. White-winged doves are currently found throughout Texas except for the East Texas Pineywoods, and they are concentrated primarily in urban areas.
Although most species are social, white-winged doves are more likely to be found in large flocks, sometimes exceeding 50 birds.
Both mourning doves and white-winged doves are gray with white undersides and white on the tips of their tails. The two species have three obvious differences in appearance:
- White-winged doves have black wingtips and a distinctive white band across the top of the wings.
- White-winged doves are larger than mourning doves.
- In flight, the white-winged dove’s tail appears blunt, and the mourning dove’s tail is long and tapered.
Another species that has expanded dramatically in recent years is the Eurasian collared dove. It is larger than white-winged or mourning doves and has a distinct black collar on the back of its neck. These doves are more prolific and more aggressive than are the native species. Consequently, biologists are concerned about the possible effects the exotic dove will have on native species.
Both species of dove can travel up to 7 miles per day for food and water, but they usually travel no more than 2 miles per day. Most white-winged dove populations outside the Rio Grande Valley are centered in towns and cities. These birds spend most of the day in their urban refuges and make feeding flights to nearby crop fields in the mornings and evenings. Unlike mourning doves, white-winged doves typically do not frequent farm ponds for water, but instead use standing water sources around towns to meet their water requirements.
Mourning doves prefer feeding areas featuring an abundance of hard-coated seeds similar to those used by quail. Doves have two characteristics that distinguish their foraging from that of quail:
- Doves eat almost exclusively seeds; insects are unimportant.
- Doves are “pickers” not “scratchers”, so it is essential to have seeds on bare ground.
Staples in the diet of mourning doves include the seeds of weedy native plants such as sunflower, doveweed and pigweed. The seeds of woody plants are relatively unimportant. Seasonally important foods include the seeds of cultivated grains, especially wheat and milo. Compared to mourning doves, white-winged doves feed more on fruit, or “mast,” but they also feed on seeds. White-winged doves are especially fond of cultivated crops, particularly milo and oilseed flowers. Unlike mourning doves, white-winged doves readily perch on trees, shrubs and standing crops when feeding.
Mourning doves nest in isolated pairs and are very discriminating about nest location. They also nest on the ground if trees are lacking. White-winged doves typically nest in colonies but can be found nesting in pairs. They usually choose native brush, cultivated orchards or residential shade trees. Mourning doves can nest throughout the year, depending on the weather, and can make two to five nesting attempts in a year. White-winged doves typically nest in April and attempt two nests per year, completing their nesting by July-August.
Because dove populations have declined in some areas over the past decade and the economic worth of dove hunting has increased, more landowners are actively managing their properties for dove. The most important consideration in improving the availability of food for doves is to promote the growth of early successional plants such as annual sunflower, doveweed, buffalobur, snow-on-the-mountain and prickly poppy. These plant species respond well to soil disturbance. To manage cropland for doves, make sure that seeds are available on bare ground. Keep tillage of the soil to a minimum after grain harvesting to leave as many seeds on the ground as possible.
Doves are migratory game birds, and dove hunting is governed by both state and federal laws. It should be noted that shooting migratory birds (including doves) over bait is strictly prohibited. A baited area is defined as any area where salt, grains or other feeds have been placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered if they could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds.
Water sources suitable for dove include farm ponds, lakes, livestock water troughs and irrigation canals. The water source most likely to attract most doves is one located between a feeding area and roost site.
For more information about this topic, contact the A&M AgriLife Extension office, Clay County at (940) 538-5042.