Monday, August 22, 2011

Doves: Painfully stupid, or not?

When I started trapping mourning doves in our front yard last summer as part of a state research project, I quickly concluded that these birds aren't smart.

Spying on them from my home office, I would watch them looking for a way to get to the big pile of safflower seed in the wire cage trap. When they couldn't find the trap's door, they would literally walk face-first into the wire. Over and over again.

And while being trapped was a little traumatic for them - the young ones literally whimpered when I reached in to grab them - there were two doves that I trapped three times last summer.

When the trapping season arrived this summer, the stupidity continued. I trapped three doves on my first day of trapping, and six on my second day of trapping. Suckas! I'd slap a band on their right legs, record some age and gender data, and launch them back into the air. This summer was gonna be big!

Then something happened. I'm not sure what it was, but the trapping shut down almost completely. In the next month, I trapped just three birds.

Two of them were doves I'd trapped and banded last summer (and yes, one of them was one that I'd trapped three times last summer). But the unbanded doves just would NOT go into my traps.

I quickly noticed a big dent in one cage, like something heavy had pounced on it. Had a dog attacked when birds were in the cage? I couldn't see that deterring doves for too long - that safflower seed is yummy and irresistible.

Was it the neighborhood cats? In late afternoons when the doves loved to feed, there always seemed to be a cat nearby. But the same thing happened last summer, and it didn't seem to matter then.

I just don't know. All I can say is that fewer doves were landing in the yard and feeding, and while they fed all around the traps, I just couldn't get them to close the deal and walk into the traps. They'd gotten wise to me. Perhaps they weren't so stupid after all.

Adding insult to injury: At dusk on Saturday - the last day we were allowed to trap doves - I did get a bird in one of the traps. A blue jay.

I suppose I shouldn't complain. I banded 11 doves this summer, and collected valuable data when I re-trapped two live birds from last summer. (Usually, a bird has to die for researchers to get the data.)

I just wish I could have figured out what was going wrong.

Oh well, my favorite dove season starts on Sept. 1 - and those doves I get to eat. I sure hope I'll have better luck then.

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


The Hunter's Wife said...

You could always put a trailcam out. That is how I knew a fox ate my duck eggs. :(

gary said...

This part of Idaho isn't really known as dove country but the last few years we have seen a definate increase in the population. We may have to learn what they taste like, if someone in this family can hit them.
I certainly have no clue why you went from 6 to 0 in one day. Gives a person something to gnaw on during the winter months, huh?

NorCal Cazadora said...

I'd prefer to gnaw on doves, Gary! And doves are definitely worth hunting - they are incredibly delicious. Hank has lots of excellent recipes here.

And Jody, that's a good idea. Then I could see whose dog is crapping in my front yard too.

Ian Nance said...

Dove hunting is the best. And they are delicious.

That's pretty neat trapping and banding did you get into that?

SimplyOutdoors said...

That is pretty weird. At first, I thought it was a cat. But if that didn't deter them last year, why would it deter them this year? I'm curious, too. I guess we may never know.

At least we know one thing, though - they're tasty, and you can hunt them soon. Of course, I can't here in Michigan, because once they cross the state line they turn into a protected "song bird".


NorCal Cazadora said...

Ian: Amen, and I can't wait for the season!

I got into banding through a friend at a local hook-and-bullet club. They were having a guest speaker from the Dept. of Fish & Game talking about the banding program, and he passed it on to me in case I was interested. I had to go through a brief class, and then I was officially authorized to band. The state provides the gear and the bands, and I send back data. It's super fun being part of that, and fun handling the birds live too.

Simply: After I wrote this post, the woman in charge of the state dove banding program said she'd had the same problem - starting like gangbusters, then really fizzling out. Who knows, with all the crazy weather stuff going on, all kinds of things could throw their behavior.

If you can ever get yourself to California Sept. 1-15, holler and I'll take you dove hunting. It's crazy difficult, and they are super tasty. The fun part is that it's very social hunting - you set up in a line and holler when you see a bird going someone else's way. The hard part is just hitting them.

Ooooooh, can't wait!!!

Ryan Sabalow said...

Holly, can you please share how you tell the gender of a dove? I've always been curious.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Yes! First thing is if the dove hatched this year, you really can't tell the gender. You know it's a hatch-year dove if it has buffy tips on its coverts - the short wing feathers that overlap the longer primary wing feathers. You should see lots of hatch-year birds in your bag.

If you don't see buffy tips, you can look for gender, and once you've handled a few, it's really obvious: Males have a bit of a blue sheen on top of their heads/necks, and a rosy sheen around their throats. The females are just drab brown.

I'm told that some people get so good at this that they can identify gender of a bird that's in flight. I'm not that good, but when I see them on the ground in my front yard, it's easy to spot the males well before I get them in hand.

Ryan Sabalow said...

Cool. Thanks! Have any pics showing the difference?

Anonymous said...

Doves almost have me convinced that they are not so much dumb as extremely stubborn and they like to tease.

I cannot tell you the number of times I have watched them get close to the cat and then walk away in a little zigzag pattern. It's worse if there is another dove up on the telephone wire that watches the play from above. Total cat frustration.

When the liquidamber drops iits seeds, I sometimes have around twenty doves in the front yard.


NorCal Cazadora said...

Oooh, I didn't know they liked liquid ambar!

I've never seen them taunt the cats. I have seen piles of dove feathers in the back yard (not where I trap), so apparently they can't fool Harlequin.

Ingrid said...

Chiming in because of my love for doves. I had the privilege of mentoring with a Mourning Dove expert at my wildlife hospital. They are dear birds to work with, and highly devoted, monogamous parents to their young. In terms of aging and sexing the birds, spring juveniles can lose the white tips of their coverts earlier in the season and thus be misidentified as older than they are. Some of the sexing confusion can happen here.

Although, as you know, I'm not a huge fan of wing shooting in general (owing to the high crippling rates) there's some controversy over the timing of the September dove-hunting season, owing to late-summer nesting. I've researched both sides and I'm not fully resolved about the dove-hunting dates, even though the pro-hunting literature downplays this aspect.

Anecdotally speaking, hospitals and rehabbers get late-season August and September babies (they have a late-summer incubation), so until babies are fully fledged, adult kills of adult birds do result in orphans. And the chance of orphans, in general, finding their way to a wildlife hospital likes ours is pretty slim. The quantity of doves taken in early September, at the hairy edge of nestling/fledgling season, is problematic for me. But I know you'd expect that POV from the maw of a rehabber.

NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL, glad you're back here. I shot one dove last September that looked like it had just barely started flying, and I expect that'll happen again this year. I'm told the abundant spring and late rains are leading to extra clutches this year.

I wish I knew more about the reasons for the seasons. I'd happily hunt doves at any time - Sept. 1 holds no charm for me (in fact, it's usually a weekday in the first week of school, so it's not much good for me.

One thing you run up against here is that that date - Sept. 1 - appears to be a serious tradition.

Ingrid said...

Most early fall seasons are too early, from my standpoint, including anterless hunts which leave the season's young vulnerable. Young tend to acquire their first winter's survival skills through their parents. There is at least one study showing increased mortality among orphaned fawns, owing to some of these factors. Of course, these aren't issues you'll tend to find validated in hunting literature. Most of what I read in hunting-related literature diminishes these factors.