My Uncle Dave's ranch borders Jump Creek near Homedale and has a nice tree-lined section of creek bottom. The agricultural land provides ample seeds and food for all sorts of game animals. It is perfect bird hunting country--pheasant, quail, duck, geese and a host of other avian creatures are routinely spotted on the property.
No wonder it has been invaded by foreigners.
Beady-eyed genetic giants have taken over sections of his property--well, kind of. More like they flutter around and eat some of his corn; nonetheless, the invaders are not supposed to be here.
The intruders are Eurasian collared doves. They are found across the country and are quickly migrating in Canada as well. As the name implies, the doves are originally from Asia and Europe, but they have been on the invasive path for most of the past century. They had conquered Western Europe by the 1950s, the Bahamas by the 1970s, and are now found as far north as the Canada-Alaska border.
According to some sources, Eurasian collared doves were introduced to the Western Hemisphere when some escaped on an island in the Bahamas during a pet store burglary. A hurricane then transported them to Florida.
"They have steadily been marching across the country since then," said Sal Palazzolo, from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Eurasian collared doves are similar to the native mourning dove--so much so that people often don't notice the difference. A dove is a dove. But on closer inspection, a collared dove has a black ring of feathers around its neck, it is usually lighter in color and has a squared tail. On average, collared doves are also bigger than mourning doves.
Being a hunter, I have always been interested in collared doves because of the open season that Fish and Game has placed on them. A hunter can bag as many as he or she wants and all IDFG asks is that an identifiable portion of the bird is left intact, otherwise it will count toward the mourning dove limit.
If hunting collared doves outside of dove season, officials will slap you with a poaching ticket if they can't ID the bird--mourning doves are a federally protected species.
Without a bag limit, I have the potential to score a couple grass-fed, organic, free-range, hormone-free dinners in the off-season.
While Fish and Game officials would not openly talk smack about collared doves, the agency's opinion of them is pretty easy to guess based on the hunting rules.
Not being a pro in the invasive species wrangling game, I called for some backup. I spoke with Jackson Landers, who wrote a book called Eating Aliens: One Man's Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species. One of those species was collared doves.
"Hunting collared doves should be one part of our eradication efforts. It won't be the whole answer, but it should be part of it," Landers said.
"Wing-shooters will need to spend time watching both collared doves and mourning doves in flight before going hunting, especially when the mourning dove is not in season," he added. "Their flight behavior is different, and with practice, a hunter can learn to tell the difference instantly in mid-air. Without practice, you might shoot the wrong species and earn yourself a fine from the game warden."
In Eating Aliens, Landers does exactly that: scours the country for invasive species and eats them. The opening chapter is on giant iguanas in Florida and the book closes with pigs in Texas. It is a great read on just how much change invasive species can cause.
Landers proposes that hunting invasive species can be an effective form of eradication--just ask the carrier pigeon and the Dodo bird.
Personally, I hunt collared doves because it gives me another game animal to eat. But I am a little less ethical with them than with other game birds. Most hunters will let birds fly and shoot them on the wing, which increases the bird's chance of survival and is considered more sporting. I will shoot a collared dove while it's sitting on a branch without a second thought. Why? I use my binoculars and positively identify it before stalking the bird. If it flies, I shoot. If it doesn't, I still shoot. My goal is eradication.
It doesn't hurt that eating these doves is enjoyable.
"In my experience, one species of dove or pigeon tastes pretty much like every other species. If you like to eat mourning doves (which I do), then you will enjoy eating collared doves. Expect a rich, tightly grained red meat that has more in common with goose or beef than with chicken," said Landers.
These doves might be getting a bad rap, however.
"Right now, the jury is still out on the biology of the Eurasian collared doves. We have yet to see a noticeable decline in the mourning dove population," said Palazzolo. "Mourning doves are generalists; they will nest on the ground, in a shrub, in a tree. The Eurasian collared doves seem to be sticking to places near human habitation and not the forests."
While the collared dove is not supposed to be here, neither are a lot of the things around us. Looking at the environment of the Treasure Valley, we can see a host of non-native species: honey bees, earthworms, dandelions, cheatgrass, bullfrogs, quail, pheasants, chukar, catfish, bass, crappie, bluegill, perch, walleye, German brown trout, Hungarian partridges and pigeons are all non-native species to the area. But no massive removal efforts are under way. In fact, most of the animals on that list are managed to keep populations steady and harvestable via hunting activities.
In most cases, introduced or invasive species are relegated to three categories: The first is "remove at all cost" invasive--like the feral swine that were found near CJ Strike Reservoir; the second is the "it would be cool if they were gone but we don't have the budget to fight them right now" category. Carp, bullfrogs and the Eurasian collared doves seem to be in this category. The last category is the "introduced invader" type. Wild turkeys are a great example. They are non-native but can only be hunted during specific times of the year, with strict bag limits and licensing.
How we perceive--and treat--these aliens seems to say more about our behavior than theirs. "If we want them here, they are introduced; if we don't, they are invasive" said Palazzolo. "Invasive and introduced is a matter of semantics."