Missouri participating in study of mourning doves

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The hunting season for the migratory bird begins Wedneday.

By Gene Myers

Special to the Southeast Missourian

Dove hunting season in Missouri begins Wednesday and concludes Nov 9.

The limit is 12 doves daily and 24 in possession. The limit includes mourning, collared and white-winged doves. Dove hunters ages 16 through 64 must buy a Small Game Hunting Permit to pursue doves. All dove hunters 16 and older must have a Missouri Migratory Bird Hunting Permit for dove hunting. Shooting hours are one-half hour before sunrise to sunset.

Mourning doves are one of the most widely distributed and abundant birds in North America. They're also a popular game bird that is hunted in 40 of the lower 48 states. In fact, more mourning doves are harvested each year than all other migratory bird species combined. Up-to-date survival and harvest rate information is critical to understanding the effects of annual hunting regulations on mourning dove populations, and banding is an important tool for obtaining this information.

Missouri, in cooperation with 28 other states, is participating in a nationwide mourning dove banding study. This three-year study will determine mourning dove harvest rates, estimate annual survival, provide information regarding the geographical distribution of harvest and develop and refine techniques for a future long-term dove banding program.

During the three-year study, more than 85,000 mourning doves will be banded in the participating states. Doves will be captured, aged and sexed and then fitted with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service band inscribed with an identification number and a 800 telephone number for band reporting.

It is important that hunters examine their mourning doves for leg bands. By reporting banded doves, you directly help manage this important migratory bird resource. To report band numbers, call 1-800-327-BAND. You will need to provide the band number as well as how, when and where the bird or band was found. After reporting, the band is yours to keep. In addition, you will receive a certificate showing the bird's age, sex and the date and location of banding.

Last year, Missouri's 43,531 licensed dove hunters killed an estimated 806,000 doves. That was 17.7 percent more than in 2002 and 3.7 percent above the 10-year average.

Dove hunting success varies from year to year, depending on two factors -- weather and available food. Dove hunters are most active during the first two or three weeks of the season. Many of the birds nest in Missouri, but a large number of those taken by hunters come from Iowa and other states to the north. A strong cold weather front early in the season can push hundreds of thousands of doves south into Missouri, boosting hunter success.

Migrating doves stay here only if they find abundant food. Because they favor grains, such as corn, sorghum and wheat, the readiness of such crops in early September is an important factor in determining how many birds hunters will find when they go afield. Please note that hunters have the responsibility of determining whether a specific field is a legal site or not.

Individuals who plant wheat prior to Oct. 1 and leave it exposed -- not disced or drilled in -- subject themselves, and hunters who hunt on their lands, to state and federal charges of baiting doves. This in no way affects the normal harvest procedures for grains but rather provides a guideline for those with questions about overseeding with wheat. By federal regulations, "baiting" is defined as "the direct or indirect placing, exposing, depositing, distributing or scattering of salt, grain or other feed that could serve as a lure or attraction for migratory game birds to, on, or over any areas where hunters are attempting to take them."

Doves may be hunted in fields of standing grain or in harvested fields. Additional grain may not be scattered on any field. In addition, standing grain may be manipulated by mowing or discing and hunted for doves. Manipulation of standing crops is not allowed for other migratory birds such as ducks and geese.

For more information, consult the "2004 Migratory Bird Hunting Digest," available from permit vendors statewide.

Gene Myers is an agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation.

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