For the Birds Radio Program: Mourning Dove

Original Air Date: Aug. 28, 1989

This year’s annual Mourning Dove population report suggests the species needs continued protection from hunting. (3:12)

Audio missing


(Recording of a Mourning Dove)

The most abundant gamebird in the United States is the Mourning Dove. Although protected in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa, as well as several northeastern states, an estimated 45 million Mourning Doves are taken by hunters elsewhere in the United States every year.

I just received the newest paper on population trends of the Mourning Dove. The Federal Government may be slow to produce some things, but this monograph was based on census data collected between May 20 and June 5 of this year on more than 1000 routes nationwide, and was written, printed, and mailed out less than 10 weeks after the data came in to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Office in Patuxent, Maryland.

The main conclusion of this study is that Mourning Dove numbers are stable in most of the Eastern states, but dropping significantly in the west and central states. The states richest in doves nationwide are North and South Dakota and Kansas, all of which had an average of over 40 doves heard on each 20-mile census route.

Minnesota, like its western neighbors, is rich in doves in the prairie part of the state, but the forested eastern sections have fewer—20-30 doves per route were censused. Southeastern Wisconsin, along Lake Michigan, also had 20-30 doves per census route, but the rest of the state had only 10-20. Although Wisconsin’s dove population has been fairly stable over the period from 1966-1989, eastern Minnesota’s population has shown a significant decline. Although dove hunting is not permitted in Minnesota, over-harvesting may still be contributing to the species’ decline here, since our birds winter in states where they are heavily hunted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also considers a combination of other factors, including losses in habitat through reclamation and industrial and urban development and changes in agricultural practices such as fall plowing and burning of ditch banks.

The western states show the most dramatic and serious declines of doves, and so dove hunting in the western states has been restricted since 1987. Although the federal government hasn’t imposed similar restrictions in the central management area yet, the state of Missouri has unilaterally placed restrictions on dove hunting which may serve to help Minnesota’s doves.

Sportsmen’s groups often introduce legislation to make the Mourning Dove a game bird in Minnesota and Wisconsin. But because both states are at the northern limit of its range, all the doves killed here would be our own already declining breeding birds. Until the limiting factors of dove numbers are better understood, it would be prudent to keep the dove a protected species.

(Recording of a Eastern Kingbird)

This is Laura Erickson and this program has been “For the Birds.”