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A bird’s-eye view: Sumter County doves

It’s September 2015, and one dove season has come and gone with two more dates available for sportsmen to try their skills against these fast flying “gray ghosts.” The dove species that hunters pursue in Georgia are known as Mourning Doves. They get their name because of the soft, cooing noise they make that can be construed as a mournful sound. The nemonic sounds like the bird is saying, “Hu-la hoop, hoop, hoop.” The Mourning Dove is one of the most prolific, and, as a result, most abundant birds found in North America. Some individuals are migratory.
Doves are members of the family Columbidae. In addition to being very strong fliers they feed mostly on the ground searching for small seeds and possibly fruits. When they walk their head bobs back and forth, like chickens, for some reason. They build what I would hardly call a nest on a horizontal tree limb that usually is so flimsy for the life of me I can’t understand how the two white eggs are incubated without falling through. Some individuals prefer the proximity of houses and will nest on wooden ledges of inhabited buildings. A pair used a ledge at the Plains High School this year to serve as a nest platform. Adults form strong pair bonds and are monogamous. Young birds are fed a milky substance secreted by both parents that is high in protein and fat called “crop milk” or “pigeon milk.” Both the male and female take turns incubating the eggs and brooding of the young called squabs.
Just the other day I was mowing my yard when I flushed an adult Mourning Dove from under a shrub in my front yard. It immediately began doing the broken wing display and flopping around on the ground as it attempted to distract me from the young bird it was caring for. I had seen the “broken wing” diversion many times before and knew it’s meaning. A quick visual search under the shrub yielded the newly fledged bird. I continued my mowing leaving the young bird alone.
Mourning Doves are at my platform feeder daily showing a strong preference for millet. Often an adult will want to “own” the feeder and run other birds away. I’ve noticed that the Mourning Dove will use it’s wings as a weapon. With a quick-as-lightning wing flick the dove can hold its own against most birds his size. Think of a KO punch from Evander Holyfield and you get the idea.
Did you know there were other members of the Columbidae family right here in Sumter County and in southwest Georgia? I can think of at least five other species I’ve observed here besides the Mourning Dove.
Probably the most recognizable is the Rock (feral) Pigeon. All you have to do is drive past the Windsor Hotel and you will see them perched on roof tops or flying about downtown. They will often gather into small groups and fly out into the countryside to feed during the day.
The tiny Common Ground-Dove is often seen in agricultural areas in southwest Georgia.
An introduced species, the Eurasian Collared-Dove, came from Europe and is larger than Mourning Doves weighing almost twice as much. They are rapidly colonizing North America.
At my home in Americus I have hosted White-winged Doves on a number of occasions. They are more numerous in the southwestern states, but, nevertheless do come to Georgia from time to time.
On June 19, 2012, my friends Wayne Shaffner and Tod Lanier from Albany discovered the first accepted Georgia record of Inca Dove in next door Worth County at the Plant Crisp public boat ramp on Lake Blackshear. Since then other Inca Doves have been found in Miller County indicating this species is expanding it’s range.
A few dove facts:
• Doves are usually associated with peace.
• They are the second-most mentioned bird species in the New King James Version of the Holy Bible with eagles taking top honors.
• Scientists estimate there are 130 million Mourning Doves making them a bird of least concern to ornithologists.
• There are 320 species of pigeons and doves worldwide.*
• North America hosts 49 species of pigeons and doves.*
• The Passenger Pigeon, now extinct, once numbered in the billions in North America.
• The average life span of a Mourning Dove is 1.5 years.*
• The longest living documented wild Mourning Dove was 19.3 years old.*
• A group of doves has several collective nouns, including a “bevy,” “cote,” “dole,” “duke” and “flight” of doves.*
Those facts marked with * came from my iBird Pro: North America field guide app for iPhone.
The Mourning Dove, Zenaidia macroura, is the most hunted animal in North America. And why not? They are delicious as table fare and offer the sportsman quite a variety of shots from straight away to quartering as well as left to right shots. Some individuals fly at great altitudes. Given their small size and fast flight no wonder only the best wing shooters are capable of taking a bag limit of these mostly inconspicuous birds.
In 1986, I attended a pay dove shoot that benefited a local civic club. Several hunters were there and I got to meet some for the very first time as I was new to Americus. We spread out across a large field to make sure we had a safe distance between the hunters. As fate would have it, I actually shot a dove! But the bird continued its flight until it crash landed out in the middle of the field. I knew it would be a long walk to find the bird. On my way to the bird Dr. Ray Williams’ Labrador Retriever had been watching the event unfold and suddenly took off for my bird. My two legs were no match for the sprint the dog was now in. The lab picked up the bird and dutifully took it back to Dr. Williams for a well deserved pat on the back and an “at-a-boy” from his proud owner.
After the hunt was over, Dr. Williams and I had a laugh over the event. And being a stand-up guy he handed my dove over to me with an apology for his dog’s bad manners. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad idea. Train your dog to retrieve any and all birds he can. It would save cost of shotgun shells and greatly increase the chances you meet your bag limit! You go home and show your limit of birds to your spouse and suddenly you’re the hero with no questions asked. Not a bad idea.
Take time to enjoy the beauty of our native birds.

Phil Hardy, bird watcher, lives in Americus. Send questions/comments to beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com