In 1974, a pigeon fancier imported a flock of about 50 Eurasian collared doves to the Bahamas. Ultimately he released the birds, and they took to life in the West Indies. By the late 1970s some had reached south Florida, and by the late 1980s the doves had been seen in Georgia and Arkansas.
Since then biologists and birders have reported the collared doves in Alabama (1991), Texas (1995), South Dakota (1996), Montana (1997), Minnesota (1998), Iowa (1999) and Oregon (1999). Today Eurasian collared doves occur across the U.S., though for some reason their numbers are small in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states.
Though the rapid expansion of collared dove populations has been impressive, it has not been entirely natural. Many additional intentional and accidental releases have occurred in California, Colorado, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas and throughout the Caribbean.
In some places collared doves have become relatively common backyard birds. They visit bird feeders for sunflower seeds, millet and various cereal grains.
In Pennsylvania, the first collared-dove was reported in Crawford County in August 1996. Since then, most sightings have come from the southeastern quarter of the state. One reference book reported 15 possible nesting attempts, including one in Westmoreland County. It seems inevitable that Eurasian collared doves will continue to expand their range and become increasingly common.
The collared doves resemble mourning doves, but they are a bit larger (7 ounces, compared to a 4-ounce mourning dove), and their tails are square rather than pointed. And of course, collared doves have a distinctive black band across the back of the neck.
To protect native mourning doves, the Game Commission recently classified the Eurasian collared dove as a game bird for hunters possessing general hunting and migratory bird licenses. They can be counted as part of the bag limit for mourning doves.
The rationale is that if collared doves were classified as an exotic species, they could be taken year-round, which could lead to out-of-season kills of mourning doves. The mourning dove hunting season will to be released next month with Migratory Game Bird seasons in accordance with federal regulations.
Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, W.Va., 26033.