Bahamas pet store post-looting bird release leads to alien invaders here
By John L. Perry
The list of non-native wildlife species in the lower Columbia River region includes Virginia opossum, South American nutria, English sparrow and European starling. Now, we can add Eurasian collared dove (Streptopelia decaocto) to the list of newcomers.
A Eruasian invasion!
No other bird has colonized and occupied North America faster than the Eurasian collared dove. They are highly adaptable to a wide variety of climates and thrive in human-modified environments, both being traits which have allowed their rapid dispersal.
Somewhat smaller than the darker-hued bandtail pigeon, the collared dove has a light tan back, head and sides and pale grey belly with a black collar across the back of the neck (bandtail pigeons have a white collar). The tan tail feathers have a noticeable whitish band visible when taking off as opposed to the bandtail pigeon’s dark band. A collared dove is virtually a photographic negative image of a bandtail pigeon. Their tail is shorter and squarer than the pointed tails of smaller, grey-toned mourning doves. On the wing, collared doves resemble bandtail pigeons flying strongly and directly unlike the twisting, erratic flight of mourning doves. Their song is “coo-COO-coo” repeated many times. Their specific name decaocto is the Greek word for the number eighteen, a reference to the bird’s repetitive cooing.
Eurasian collared doves mate for life, are non-migratory (can survive -–30 F. winter weather) but are highly dispersive. The female lays two eggs in a stick nest typically in a large tree with up to three or four broods annually in good habitat. It takes just 29 to 37 days from beginning of incubation until the young fledge and leave the nest. The female incubates the eggs at night, the males take over during daytime with both feeding the hatchlings. Like sparrows and starlings, collared doves are closely associated with human habitation.
They do fly over wild areas but are just passing through while dispersing, looking for suburbia and/or rural farm areas. Collared doves have never been known to nest farther than about 1/2-mile from an occupied dwelling. They are usually seen in pairs although small flocks from 10 to 50 sometimes form. In Europe, flocks of up to 10,000 have been recorded.
Originating in India, collared doves moved slowly northwesterly to Europe eventually pushing north into Scandinavia beyond the Arctic Circle. They also dispersed northeasterly into China and later, Japan. In the 20th century these birds entered the commercial pet trade. In 1978 a pet store in the Bahama Islands was looted with about 30 doves escaping amid the confusion. By 1982 collared doves had arrived in nearby Florida and found it to their liking, raising up to six broods per year. Since then, they have spread like wildfire across North America as far north as Nova Scotia and Minnesota, across the southern states and up the west coast, arriving in Oregon in 1999. Continuing north since then, they reached Alaska by 2007. I began noticing these strange new birds two or three years ago and now see them frequently around my farm near Brownsville, Oregon.
It remains to be seen what effect, if any, the collared dove might have on native mourning dove and bandtail pigeon populations. Collared doves are primarily grain and seed eaters but as yet there have been no reports of crop damage according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Collared doves are considered game birds in Oregon and may be hunted concurrently with mourning doves during the usual September season. They are classified as “invasive” in Washington along with starlings and sparrows and may be hunted year-round. Hunting licenses are required in both states. Reports from Idaho indicate collared doves are a welcome addition offering great sporting opportunities for bird hunters and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says they are “good eating.”
One thing seems certain. Eurasian collared doves are here to stay. And, they appear to be increasing in numbers. If you haven’t seen any yet, you probably will soon. When you spot a pair of attractive, tan-colored, pigeon-like birds at your backyard feeder, they’ll most likely be Eurasian collared doves.
Thanks, Bahamian looters!
Note: I drove to Westport Washington, recently to go salmon fishing with my longtime friend and former Longview resident, Chuck Wyckoff. On the way up I took the PeEll cutoff and saw a pair of collared doves at Boistfort and another pair in the Willapa valley at Lebam.
Have you noticed (or heard the sounds of) Eurasian Collared Doves? Tell us where in the comment space below. Do you consider the birds welcome new feathered friends? Or pests?
John Perry, pictured here with his dog Crater, is retired after a career in industrial forestry. He lives on a farm near Brownsville, Oregon, where he grows Christmas trees and improves wildlife habitat.