Two doves in a bare tree
T’is the season when we wish one another – “Glad Tidings and Goodwill to All Men (and women)” and we also wish and pray for Peace on Earth. In the Judeo-Christian tradition the dove has been chosen to be the physical representation of peace. It is in the story of Noah and the flood that the dove makes its appearance carrying an olive branch in its beak, indicating land had been found. We might think that this would have better symbolized relief or gratitude, but through the ages it has come to symbolize peace or those seeking peace. Pablo Picasso added to this symbology with his 1949 lithograph of a white dove for the International Peace Congress held in Paris.
There are about 295 species of pigeons and doves in the world and they all belong to the family Columbidae (derived from Latin word for a dove). The turtledove, which is mostly white in color, is thought to be the original model for the ‘bird of peace’. It is found in Europe and the Mediterranean. In contrast, the mourning dove’s short neck and plump breast are a faint grayish color overlaid with a blush of pale pink. The wings display more of a brownish gray tone. The tail which is the same color as the wings is long and pointed, with white tips on the outermost feathers. These can be seen when the bird takes to the air with a whistling of its wings. Once airborne, mourning doves can reach speeds of 30-40 mph.
The majority (98%) of the dove’s diet consists of seeds. They typically feed on the ground and are common in agricultural areas where they clean up weed seeds or those left behind during harvest. One study found a dove’s stomach containing 7,500 yellow wood sorrel seeds and another had 6,400 foxtail grass seeds. Because of this they have been called the “farmer’s friend”. To entice them close to your home, offer a mix of millet and safflower seeds.
Mourning doves build notoriously sloppy and fragile nests of twigs, often in a crotch or on the branch of an evergreen tree. It is hard to imagine how it holds the two pure white eggs laid by the female. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs day and night and after two weeks, the chicks hatch. During the two weeks before they fledge, the parents feed them regurgitated food called ‘pigeon milk’. It is not unusual for the adults to raise two or more broods before the season is over. This is one of the reasons that mourning doves are the most abundant and widespread species of dove in this country.
Immature mourning dove
This is also one of the reasons they are hunted in 39 states. The Minnesota State Legislature approved a dove hunting season in 2004, after nearly 60 years of protection. The season lasts from the beginning of September until November 9th (this year). It’s true that mourning doves number in the millions, but so did the passenger pigeon at one time, as the last blog posting reported. This dove, the universal symbol of peace is also a living target for those who wish to test their shotgun prowess.
I’m not a hunter, but I am a meat eater, so I respect people who hunt for their own food, but I find it hard to comprehend how a bird that weighs 4.4 to 4.6 ounces completely intact is going to be harvested specifically for its meat. Fully dressed out, the breast and thigh might weigh around 2 ounces – about a mouthful. How many people are going to invest that much time and energy plucking and cleaning enough of the birds to make a meal for a family of four? In Minnesota, the daily bag limit is 15 and you may have 30 in your possession. One figure I found indicated close to one million hunters take approximately 20 million birds annually in the U.S.
Because they are so fast in flight, they are especially challenging for the person shooting. By the same token they are also much more likely to be wounded, rather than killed outright. According to the Humane Society of the United States, studies indicate that the wounding rate exceeds 20 percent in hunted areas. These birds will most likely not be retrieved after being shot.
In an especially ironic twist, the State of Wisconsin in 1971, officially protected the mourning dove by law and named it the state symbol of peace. In 2001 the mourning dove was back on the list of legal game birds in Wisconsin, but remains to this day, the State’s symbol of peace.
by Kate Crowley
Mourning Dove adult