For the Birds Radio Program: Mourning Dove Season

Original Air Date: April 24, 2003

Should Minnesota and Wisconsin start allowing Mourning Dove hunting?

Audio missing


One of the most divisive issues facing Minnesota and Wisconsin right now is whether or not to open a Mourning Dove hunting season. I’m completely opposed to the current proposals in both states.

I understand and appreciate that Mourning Doves are one of the most widely hunted game species in the nation, legally taken in 38 states. But there is a valid reason that this species was not designated as a game species in the northern tier of states in the forested eastern region of the country since the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was enacted. The range of the Mourning Dove extends well into Canada in the Great Plains, but this is not a species of forests, and the states that currently do not allow dove hunting are at the northern extreme of this species’ range. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mourning Dove Survey Route data, in 2000-2001, the average number of doves heard per route in North Dakota was over 30, while the average number of doves heard per route statewide in Minnesota was only 0 - 9.9. In particular, the population in the forested regions of eastern Minnesota simply could not sustain a hunt. Wisconsin has more doves than Minnesota, averaging 10-19.9, but this still amounts to only half of the North Dakota numbers per route.

Even if the dove population could support a hunt in our two states, there are some compelling reasons to keep Mourning Doves off the states’ lists of game species. Because doves have not been hunted here for multiple generations, few hunters have experience shooting them. It is not only possible but highly likely that misidentifications will take place and non-target, non-game species taken. I’m particularly concerned about hunters misidentifying and taking American Kestrels, a species of similar size and shape, with similar pointed wings and rapid wingbeats, found in the same habitats and sharing the same habit of perching on wires. But other species are likely to be taken as well. There was a well-publicized case in Texas of an experienced hunter taking a Killdeer in the presence of other experienced hunters as well as members the media, and no one present realized the dead bird was not a dove until the kill was broadcast on the news. In Texas, Mourning Dove hunting is a long-standing and popular tradition. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, where few hunters have ever hunted this species, it’s to be expected that many mistakes of this kind will be made. Unless an in-depth hunter education course focusing on dove identification is required for anyone before being licensed to hunt doves, I’m concerned that this will pose a significant problem.

My final concern is that the shot used for hunting Mourning Doves will in large part be lead bird shot, adding additional tons of this deadly toxin to the environment. It’s illegal to hunt ducks and geese with lead shot, but it’s still used for hunting upland species. There is an enormous body of data indicating that doves and other seed-eating birds ingest lead pellets as grit and are poisoned. Wounded birds that escape, as well as birds that got sick after eating lead shot, provide a source of lead toxicity to predators that take them. Lead, as an element, does not break down over time into less toxic substances. People have known since the fall of the Roman Empire that lead is extremely toxic to humans and other living things. And the lead shot that rains down on the earth during dove seasons outweighs the doves that are harvested. It seems unconscionable to open up a whole new source of this toxin to the environment.

I have two Mourning Doves who come to my feeder every day, and I listen to the male singing. The momentary pleasure of hitting a fast-moving target and then eating it, hardly a substantial meal at that, seems far outweighed by the pleasure and joy backyard bird enthusiasts take in them day after day after day. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that reason enough to leave them in peace?