Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Mourning Dove

It was a mourning dove, the pile of feathers beneath the tall white pine. The feathers that I showed yesterday in my blog. You can tell by the gray tail feathers with white tips and a black marking part-way.  A few buff-colored breast feathers are also evident. Have another look.

The mourning dove's low, mournful cooah coo coo coo could be confused by the deep hoot hoot hoot of a great horned owl. We heard both birds yesterday morning. The mourning dove is a common sighting, the owl not so much. Just at dawn as we walked in the Mitchell field hoping to catch a glimpse of the owl or at least hear another hoot, a mourning dove zoomed by at eye level. It flew fast and straight like a bullet. I often see mourning doves foraging for seeds on the ground below our bird feeders or perched in the sunlit black gum tree preening their feathers.

According to those who track bird numbers, there are about 350 million mourning doves in the United States. They are the most common dove in this country and a popular target for hunters who shoot 20 million mourning doves each year. There is no dove season in New Hampshire; hunting them is most popular in the south and midwest.

A college friend of mine, Kay Neumann, is working with others in Iowa to urge that State to require a switch from lead shot to steel shot when hunting dove. She notes several reasons why this is needed:

  • Research shows that as many doves die from ingesting lead shot and resulting lead poisoning as are harvested during hunting seasons (approximately 17 million birds annually).
  • If doves are cleaned in the field, carcasses may be left behind offering a food and poisoning source for many raptor species.
  • Federal law bans lead shot for all waterfowl hunting, on public and private land. Research confirmed that this ban has saved millions of ducks from dying of lead poisoning, resulting in cost effective conservation.
According to Kay, 42 states have dove seasons and less than half require the use of non-toxic (steel) shot. These decisions are influenced by groups like the National Rifle Association. Many hunters are in favor of the shift (Kay herself is a hunter), but apparently not enough to help influence the political process. For more on this topic visit Kay's organization, SOAR (Save our Avian Resources) here. If 20 million doves are shot each year that is a lot of lead in the environment.

I am glad there is no dove season in New Hampshire, but if there were I hope hunters would rally behind the use of non-toxic shot.

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