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Dove Hunting Like the Good Old Days

Dove season hunting information, including open areas, bag limits, recent law changes, hunting tips, frequently asked questions, gear and special hunting events.

Mourning Dove  
Mourning Dove   Habitat

Mourning Dove

This is the most common and widely occurring game bird in Arizona, and the mourning dove's trim, streamlined body, accentuated by its tiny head and sharply tapered tail is familiar to even the most casual observer of birds. This dove can also be differentiated from its white-winged cousin by its overall brown color, a lack of white on all but the outer tail feathers, the presence of black spots on the upper wing surfaces, and the distinctive rattling whistle that is emitted by the bird's wing feathers when it takes flight. The more richly colored adult males can usually be distinguished at all times of the year from the browner females by their pinkish rose breasts, flecks of metallic green and other iridescence on the napes of their necks, and their slate blue crowns. Adult males weigh about 4.3 ounces, females about 4 ounces, with an occasional male weighing up to 6 ounces. Juvenile birds can be identified up to 4 or 5 months of age by the white tipping on the margins of their wing feathers.

White-winged Dove   Habitat

White-winged Dove

This bird's hefty size and rounded off tail give the "white-wing" the appearance of being half dove and half pigeon, hence the older name of "Sonora pigeon." Whitewings differ from the more widespread mourning dove in having an overall grayer plumage, a white-tipped tail, and the white wing epaulets that give the bird its name. The whitewing's flight also appears slower, less purposeful, and more pigeonlike than the mourning dove's. Adults can be distinguished by an unfeathered bright blue eye patch, red feet, and eyes that range from yellow-orange to orange-red. By way of contrast, birds of the year have dull purplish brown feet and are marked mostly in grays, whites, and browns. Adult males are especially handsome birds, their brownish heads crowned in reddish purple with areas on the neck flecked with gold, green, and purple iridescence. The average weight of an adult male is about 5.5 ounces, although birds weighing up to 8 ounces have been recorded.

Collared Dove: L-R African, Eurasian   Habitat

Collared Dove, Eurasian and African

Eurasian (Streptopelia decaocto)
Eurasian Collared doves are the third largest dove/pigeon (~13 inches tall) found in Arizona following only the Rock Dove (the common city pigeon) and the Band-tailed Pigeon. These birds have a medium gray plumage with much darker primary flight feathers. The coloration is lighter in color on the underside. They have a prominent black collar around the back of their neck which is how their name is derived. They also have dark pink legs, a blackish colored beak, and have dark orange to reddish color iris. The tail is squared off to rounded edge which aids in identification when in flight. They have a very distinct calling pattern associated with them that has three parts. It is a cooing call where the duration of the second part is always longer in length than the first or third. The call has lilts and tones that are very different from that of a Mourning Dove. They also have a raspy screeching type call which can almost sound like a baby crying.

African (Streptopelia rosogrisea)
African Collared doves are the fourth largest dove/pigeon (~11-12 inches tall) found in Arizona, and is only slightly smaller than the Eurasian. While very similar in appearance to its Eurasian cousin, there exist very subtle differences between them. Their plumage is much more of a cream color and upon closer inspection; the individual feathers are a mosaic of shades, unlike the even color exhibited by the Eurasian. The primary flight feathers are darker and grayer than the other feathers. They too, have the distinctive black collar around the back of the neck, as well as dark pink legs, a blackish colored beak, and the dark orange to reddish color of the iris. They do have a squared off to rounded edge tail, but can be more pointed in shape. Their cooing call is a two part call that is more rolling in nature. Their cry note is much softer than Eurasians and not raspy.

Natural History

Mourning dove
Mourning doves occur from the lowest elevations along the Colorado River upward through forests of ponderosa pines to 8,500 feet. Their staple foods throughout the year are primarily small seeds and cultivated grains. Although some doves can be found nesting on the ground in open prairies, the best nesting habitats are brushlands and woodlands within the Sonoran Desert. Here, the woeful call of breeding males can be heard as early as February, and pairs have been known to attempt as many as seven nestings in a single season. Productivity may therefore be high even though the usual clutch size is only two eggs. Incubation takes only about 15 days, and is accomplished by both parents, as is the brooding and feeding of the nearly naked squabs. The young doves are fed regurgitated "pigeon milk" by both parents, and they grow and develop rapidly. Fledglings leave the nest only 12 to 14 days after hatching. Even in southern Arizona, nesting is essentially over by mid-August, and some of the early-hatched juveniles have already migrated by late July. By the first week of September, the migration of most nesting populations is usually underway, the juveniles typically leaving before the adults.

White-winged dove
There are two types of white-winged dove populations in Arizona, a thinly scattered population found throughout the Sonoran Desert and the surrounding countryside (including towns and residential neighborhoods), and colonial populations that nest collectively along river bottoms adjacent to agricultural areas. Most of the desert and residential area whitewings nest only once and migrate out of the state prior to the opening of the dove season on September 1. The colonial whitewings, however, usually nest twice before departing for their wintering areas in southwestern Mexico. These are the whitewings that are most often present after September 1, and which contribute most to the harvest. Males of both populations begin courtship as soon as they arrive in Arizona in late April and early May. By late May, nesting is at its peak, both sexes sharing in the incubation of the eggs and the feeding and brooding of the two young squabs, most of which hatch toward the end of June. Fed a highly nutritious "pigeon-milk" by their parents, the squabs are usually fledged by late June or July. Should grains or other high-energy foods be available, the colonial-nesting birds will now attempt another nesting, while the "desert birds" begin migrating south. As the second nesting comes to a close in late July and August, both the juvenile birds and their parents form gregarious flocks in selected roost sites adjacent to favored feeding fields, which unlike those selected by mourning doves, are often composed of standing crops of barley, maize, and safflower. The stimuli for the mass migration from cultivated valleys that takes place about September 1 are not completely understood. Summer storms, a drop in nighttime temperatures, food shortages, and harassment by hunters have all been suggested as reasons for the movement. Nonetheless, there have been years when all of these events occurred with little or no influence on the onset of migration. Once migration is underway, the departure is often rapid, the adults usually leaving before the juveniles.

Eurasian collared doves
The Eurasian collared dove is an invasive species and a relative newcomer to North America and Arizona. In the 1970’s a shipment of Eurasian collared doves was sent to an exotic bird dealer in the Bahamas in place of an order of Ringed Neck Turtle Doves (also known as the Barbary Dove). They were then accidentally released and quickly made their way to Florida by the mid 1980’s. They grew in numbers, and then began making their way westward.

The Christmas Bird Counts performed annually by the Audubon Society place the first recorded sightings in Arizona at 2001. Since that time, their numbers have been steadily increasing and can be found in all areas of the state.

The African Collared Dove is an invasive species and has been in North America for quite some time, but in a different form. This species is the ancestral form of the Ringed Neck Turtle Dove, which is a domestic bird that has been held in captivity around the world by collectors and bird enthusiasts since its domestication 2000 to 3000 years ago. Those that escape or have been released typically do not persist in nature for long because they cannot distinguish natural food sources and have lost the instinctive predator avoidance mechanisms. They can however successfully breed with wild populations of either Eurasians or Africans if they are present. The great increase in varieties and color variations in the 20th century was brought about by cross breeding with African Collared Doves. These wild type birds have also escaped and been released which is why they are here now.
The native habitat of the African Collared Dove is Sub-Saharan Africa which is not all that different than the desert Southwest. Theoretically, this means the spread and range of African Collared Doves should be limited to the Southwestern U.S. and not much further. Wild populations are currently known to be in Arizona and southern California.

Hunting and Trapping History

Mourning dove
Prior to statehood this species was hunted primarily in conjunction with white-winged dove, and spring and summer shooting over grain fields was a common occurrence. In 1929, however, state and federal regulations curtailed the mourning dove season in Arizona to between September 1 and December 15, and established a 20-bird bag limit. As with the white-winged dove, the glory days of mourning dove shooting were in the 1960s and 1970s, when more than 100,000 hunters reported harvesting up to 2.5 million mourning doves a year. Although still ranked as one of Arizona's two most important game birds, mourning dove hunting has since fallen off due to urban expansion, changing farm practices, and more restrictive season arrangements. Questionnaire surveys indicate that during the past 10 years, an average of from 45,000 to 60,000 hunters bagged from 1 million to 1.3 million doves each year.

White-winged dove

A favorable combination of nesting cover and grain crops resulted in two great heydays of whitewinged doves hunting in Arizona. The first of these was in the years prior to World War I, and the second was during the years after World War II. So plentiful were these birds that the bag limit was 25 per day and 50 in possession. Numbers peaked in the 1960s when, in 1968, an all-time record harvest of more than 3/4 million was reached. Since then, declining nesting habitat and the virtual replacement of grain farming by cotton and alfalfa have greatly reduced whitewing hunting opportunities. After reaching a low of 86,000 birds harvested in 1980, whitewing harvests have again gradually increased.

Collared doves

Both of these birds have been taken incidentally by hunters during dove season. As Eurasian numbers increased and became more common the first official season for them was established in 2006 that ran concurrent with the regular dove season. This was expanded in 2007 to be a year round season with an unlimited bag as neither bird is covered under the jurisdiction of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The discovery of the persistent populations of African Collared Doves was fairly recent, so they too will likely be added to the regulations with the same season as Eurasians in 2009.

Updated April 2009

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