Published December 02, 2012, 12:00 AM

ALWAYS IN SEASON: Collared doves conquer the continent

Probably no species has conquered North America more quickly than the Eurasian collared dove.

By: Mike Jacobs, Grand Forks Herald

Probably no species has conquered North America more quickly than the Eurasian collared dove.

It took humans several millennia to overrun the continent. Rats, which came with European colonists, did it in five centuries or so. House sparrows and Starlings appeared a century and a quarter ago, in the 1880s. Leafy spurge showed up in the 1890s.

Eurasian collared doves arrived in 1975.

By 2000, they had reached Alaska. That’s the year the doves were first seen in the Red River Valley, as well, at Crystal, N.D., where a pigeon fancier saw and identified them.

Last week, the doves turned up on Nancy Michalski’s deck in Oslo, Minn. There were five of them.

Michalski’s was one of several reports of collared doves last week. This is not too surprising. Many species of birds become more obvious at this time of year, partly because natural cover has decreased as the leaves fell and partly because the birds are bolder, coming to feeders instead of foraging on the country.

As the name implies, the Eurasian collared dove is an Old World native – though it might more accurately be called the Asian collared dove. In historic times, its range was centered on the Indian subcontinent. From there, it spread to Asia Minor and southeastern Europe. Earlier this century, the population exploded across Europe – not unlike what’s happened in North America in this century.

The initial American collared doves were seen in the Bahamas. These may have escaped from captivity. The population quickly skipped to Florida and then began expanding to the north and west.

They moved diagonally across the continent, soon reaching Alaska. From this line, they moved both west and east until they’ve pretty much filled up all but the northeastern most parts of the North American land mass.

Collared doves are plain birds, but they are easily recognized. Here are the key points:

In size, the collared dove is intermediate between the mourning dove, which appears dainty, and the common pigeon, which seems bulky.

Collared doves are paler than either mourning doves or pigeons. In color, they are light gray or brown overall.

Pigeons, of course, come in many colors. Mourning doves are a warm brown with iridescent highlights.

Mourning doves have distinctly pointed tails, and perching birds look triangular. Pigeons are blocky, appearing to occupy the better part of a square. Collared doves are rectangular, though they seem a little heavier in the front.

All three species have small heads in proportion to their bodies, but this is especially so in the collared dove.

All of these are good field marks – better than the bird’s namesake, the collar, which is a partial ring of black around the back of the neck.

Several other species have this mark, and that leads to some confusion. Several callers last week wondered whether these birds could be turtle doves or one of several species called ringed doves.

Turtle doves do occur in North America, but almost always as escapees. They are not hardy.

By contrast, Eurasian collared doves seem capable of surviving almost any conditions. They are quite comfortable in the harsh weather of Red River Valley winters. They don’t mind the summers either.

Mourning doves occasionally attempt to spend the winter here, but they are rarely successful. Their feet are tender. Their feet freeze. The birds perish.

Consequently, the mourning dove population is almost entirely migratory.

Eurasian collared doves apparently do flock together during the winter, but they don’t move any great distance. Instead, they gang up wherever food is available. Often this means small town grain elevators. Sometimes, it means an active feeder operation in cities. Both Devils Lake and Grand Forks appear to have established populations of collared doves,

Michalski’s observation last week means we can add Oslo to the lengthening list of home towns for the collared dove.

In general, the doves are welcome. They’re add variety and interest to the bird world in winter.. Their three-note cooing call is appealing.

All in all, they’re pleasant company.

Collared doves appear to feel pretty much the same way about people. They’ve now occupied much of the same habitat that our species has claimed.

In fact, the collared dove is a pretty good example of commensalism, where one species benefits without affecting the other.


Jacobs is publisher of the Herald. Reach him at (701) 780-1103, or by email at mjacobs@gfherald.com.

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