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New Dove in Texas

The Eurasian collared-dove has joined the list of exotic birds.

By Jay Roberson

An exotic dove has invaded Texas. Eurasian collared-doves are bigger, more aggressive and more prolific than our native doves, so much more so that biologists are worried about their impact.

Since they first appeared in noticeable numbers around Northeast Texas in 1995, Eurasian collared-doves have spread to nearly all of the state’s 254 counties. Several hundred thousand collared-doves live in the state now, in contrast to an estimated 35 million mourning doves and 8 million whitewings. While native doves still outnumber collared-doves, the danger is that the newcomers eventually may compete with the natives for food and nest sites, and spread diseases. Although much remains to be discovered about their impact on native doves, Eurasian collared-doves have already been nicknamed “beige starlings” and “Eurotrash” by some observers.

Like rock pigeons, starlings and house sparrows, collared-doves are not native to North America. A century ago they were found primarily on the Indian subcontinent, Turkey and the Balkans. In the early 20th century they began expanding across Europe and North Africa. By the mid-1950s they reached Great Britain and Norway. In Britain they increased from four birds in 1955 to about 200,000 breeding pairs by 1991. Eurasian collared-doves now occur as far north as Iceland and above the Arctic Circle in Norway. With a European population estimated at 7 million, these doves are still expanding to the northeast and southwest on that continent, making them one of the most successful biological invaders among terrestrial vertebrates.

The first collared-doves in the western hemisphere are believed to have escaped from or been released by a pet dealer in the Bahamas in 1974. Arriving in southern Florida in the early 1980s, they spread through that state in 10 years. By 1995, they were found throughout the southeastern United States. Most likely, the Texas invasion was led by birds from Florida. The first free-flying, naturalized populations of collared-doves in Texas were sighted in the northeastern portion of the state in 1995.

Collared-doves seem to have jumped hundreds of miles from Northeast Texas to the small towns of the Coastal Bend and the Panhandle. Ornithologists call this “jump” dispersal, which is characterized by the long-distance movement of a few individuals with larger numbers gradually back-filling. Unlike white-winged doves, which seem to have spread gradually northward into urban areas in widening concentric rings, possibly in association with the proliferation of backyard feeding, collared-doves have concentrated in small towns around grain elevators, feed stores and livestock-feeding operations.

The redistribution of water for agriculture and urban landscapes and resulting land-use changes probably have helped collared-doves expand. Doves need supplemental water to digest dehydrated, nutrient-rich seeds. Urban landscape irrigation makes water consistently available and also increases the seed production of plants and weeds.

Many doves, including Eurasian collared-doves, have adapted to the harsher semi-arid and arid zones of the world. Agricultural and landscape irrigation has made the desert a smorgasbord for doves. Urban areas provide reliable supplemental feed that may help them survive the winter. Backyard feeders and increased urban mast — such as pecans, Chinese tallow, gum bumelia — may also retard migratory tendencies and favor range expansion. Because of their wide tolerance in diet, Eurasian collared-doves appear to take advantage of these conditions.

Doves typically have small clutch sizes (commonly one or two eggs), as well as repeated, short nesting attempts. They may breed within a year after hatching. Eurasian collared-doves seem to be exceptionally capable of breeding and nesting throughout the year, beginning a second nest before the first has fledged. Brush Freeman, birding enthusiast and past vice president of the Texas Ornithological Society, has raised collared-doves at his residence in Elgin. He has reported up to four attempted nesting cycles in one year with two successful, which might allow the population to triple in a single year.

One thing is certain. The Eurasian collared-dove is here to stay. Making the best of it may include marketing this dove to hunters as an alternative species like rock pigeons and feral hogs. Landowners might offer leases with a “Grand Slam” of doves: mourning dove, white-winged dove, white-tipped dove, rock pigeon and Eurasian collared-dove. A recent study of the economic impact of dove hunting in Texas indicates that dove hunting creates nearly $200 million annually in retail sales, provides more than 3,770 jobs and generates more than $11 million in sales taxes. If it doesn’t prove a nuisance, the Eurasian collared-dove could become another element in helping folks make a living from their land.

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