PHOENIX — When Arizona hunters take to the field Friday for the opening of the 2017 dove season, a few might be fortunate enough to harvest a bird that’s a bit different than the others.

It just might be wearing jewelry.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department recently completed its annual dove-banding efforts for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, capturing thousands of mourning, white-winged and invasive Eurasian collared-doves throughout Arizona and affixing a tiny metal band around one of their legs.

A band provides data used for statistically estimating harvest rates, distribution, annual survival rates and movements of the birds throughout the various migratory flyways. Since 2003, Arizona has participated in the nationwide effort (which now includes more than two dozen states) to better manage mourning doves, arguably the most popular game bird in North America.

About 850,000 dove hunters harvested an estimated 14.5 million doves nationwide as recently as 2013. Arizona’s hunters never lack for birds. In any given year, an estimated 20 million to 30 million mourning doves – and another 2 million to 3 million of the larger white-winged doves – are residing here on opening day.

Dustin Darveau, terrestrial wildlife specialist, said the ongoing banding effort began when it was determined that dove call count surveys — while useful and still used in many areas of the state — weren’t the best method to monitor population and harvest trends. A call count survey involves driving a predetermined route and charting the number of calls heard at stops along the way.

“It (banding) just gives us a lot more data and information to better manage doves,” Darveau said. “Without that information, harvest rates can be very conservative. This provides better information, so we can increase harvest limits and provide more opportunity for hunters, or scale back just a little bit to make sure the species is sustainable for future generations.”

Darveau, along with department wildlife managers and other staff members, spent several days last month banding doves near the department’s regional office in Mesa. The banding locations include a local feedlot, a year-round haven for thousands of doves, pigeons, songbirds and even ducks that dine on the feed provided for cattle.

While the owner loses upward of $50,000 in the cost of feed that the birds consume on an annual basis, he supports the department’s banding efforts to more effectively study and manage doves, saying “It’s all about the birds. We’re proving that they’re not resident birds. They do move on, and we’ve proven it over the years by finding them in Texas, Oklahoma, Mexico. . . . That’s what I’m interested in knowing.”

The banding process isn’t complicated. The doves are lured into either funnel traps or larger outdoor pet kennels that have been baited with bird seed or cracked corn. Darveau was able to capture more birds using the kennel, complete with shade cloth and a waterer. Once enough doves found their way inside the kennel through a small impression dug under the frame, they were netted, fitted with an appropriate band, and their characteristics recorded on a data sheet for entry into a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service database.

“Each band has a dedicated number,” said Darveau, whose team banded more than 1,000 mourning and 500 white-winged doves over a 10-day period. “We record on the data sheet whether or not it’s a hatch-year bird (juvenile or adult), its sex, and determine the molt of the primary flight feathers, which on the juveniles tells us how old the bird is.”

On average, the department bands more than 3,000 mourning and 500 white-winged doves statewide annually, Darveau said.

Doves do get around. In a 2014 departmental report, mourning doves banded in Arizona have been recovered in seven other states (California, Idaho, Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma) and Mexico. Meanwhile, mourning doves banded in California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming have been recovered in Arizona.

With the start of the season only days away, the department reminds hunters that if they harvest a banded dove they can keep the band as a souvenir. They are asked, however, to visit to report it. In return, details – like where and when the bird was banded – will be sent to the person who reports the band number.

“If you harvest one, it’s a pretty big deal,” Darveau said. “It’s unique, and it greatly assists state wildlife management agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”


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