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Dove hunters across the southeast have long prized the mourning dove as the primary focus of their hunting efforts. Now, there is a new bird that seems to be quickly moving into the dove fields. They arrived up from Florida’s Gulf Coast and are headed northward. These birds are fairly easy to spot and identify in a dove field. After seeing flights of mourning doves, a Eurasian Collared Dove or ring-neck, looks more like a B-29 bomber flying across an open field. Their slower wing beat and huge size causes them to stand out among their smaller mourning dove cousins. The ring-neck more closely approximates the size of a pigeon. The prominent black band across the base of the neck is the final indication to the spotter that this is not just an overgrown mourning dove.
I first noticed these birds about 15 years ago while visiting Dauphin, Island, Alabama. It was during the summer and I quickly came to realize that their calls were nothing like the calm “cooing” sounds of a mourning dove. Yes, these doves also “coo” but during the spring and summer mating seasons, they also emit a raspy, growling, call that is best described as the sound of someone attempting to strangle a crow. Another identifying characteristic is best seen during the ring-neck’s landings and take-offs. It’s easy to identify the ring-neck’s large fan of square tail feathers. They differ from the more tapered tail of the mourning dove.
The Eurasian Collared dove was first introduced to the Bahamas back in the 1970’s and quickly made the jump to South Florida. Once on the mainland, these immigrants established themselves as a species that is rapidly spreading northward. Their habitat and food sources are compatible with those of other doves and pigeons. Unlike the mourning dove, the ring-neck does not seem interested in establishing any sort of migration pattern in North America. They are content to reside in the warmer climates and gradually spread their coverage as populations dictate.
Since this bird is a relative newcomer to the states, it remains to be seen what impact the collared dove will have on domestic populations. As their numbers increase, there may be territorial competition for food and nesting habitats in our area. Bird watchers have been monitoring their rapid expansion since the early 1980’s in an attempt to gather population information and determine the direction and rate of their growth patterns.
There are some ornithologists who feel the Eurasian Collared Dove will fill the niche that was left vacant with the extinction of the passenger pigeon which occurred in the early 1900’s. These new birds seem to be at home in the wild, as well as in suburban areas. Where ever food and nesting resources are easily available, the ring-neck takes advantage of the situation. The only possible drawback is that the ring-neck seems content to behave more as a resident bird than a migrating species. With the ring-neck beginning to expand and take up permanent residence in each state, there is a potential where some domestic migrating species could become blocked from the sustenance of their traditional foods and nesting resources.
Sightings of these birds have been documented in just about all of the lower 48 states with major populations occurring in the southeastern states. Biologists, birdwatchers, and hunters, will be keeping a close eye on the ring-neck to determine if its recent arrival will begin to affect the health of other species. The jury is still out as to whether the ring-neck will become a welcomed addition to the hunter’s dove fields or signal the beginnings of a growing problem in the bird world.
Photos by Marie Weinstein, Alabaster,AL.
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