Fall hunting seasons are now underway in much of the U.S., and numerous hunters have been—or soon will be—dove hunting. Here are a few facts that will help you better understand doves—and why they are America's Number One Game Bird.
1) The mourning dove is one of the most widespread bird species in North America, and hunters shoot an estimated 20 to 40 million doves each hunting season. The North America population of doves is estimated to be 400 million-plus strong.
2) Mourning doves are hunted in 40 states. Most states without seasons are in the Northeast and do not have a viable population to hunt. Scientific studies have proven that hunting has little effect on dove populations.
3) Doves are prolific breeders, and a pair can breed up to six times each summer. With an average of two birds (squabs) in each nest, that's 12 birds added per nesting pair each year. That means two birds create nearly a limit for one hunter in one summer period.
4) Mourning doves have been known to live more than10 years in the wild although the average life span is much less. The natural mortality rate for mourning doves is high with approximately 6 out of 10 birds not surviving from one year to the next.
5) While many doves are migratory, more and more doves are staying near where they were born and survive the winter locally thanks to the increase in backyard bird feeders and some changes in farming practices.
6) Mourning doves have been spotted as far north as Alaska and were introduced in Hawaii where they are common today. In fact, the island of Hawaii now has a dove hunting season.
7) The average mourning dove weighs about 5 ounces and has thousands of mostly gray feathers covering its body and wings. A mourning dove's feet and legs are generally pink.
8) While fields of corn, sunflowers, millet and wheat will attract doves, so will ponds and water sources, plus open areas with small gravel.
9) Doves are most active at feeding and flying periods after dawn and before dusk, and spend the midday resting in trees and digesting foods, such as seeds, that have been consumed. A mourning dove's diet is about 99% seeds, but they will also occasionally eat snails and small insects.
10) Mourning doves are prey for many animals including hawks, crows, grackles, and feral and domestic cats that can kill and eat young squabs in the nest.
Courtesy of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance. www.ussportsmen.org.