Eurasian Collared-Doves Continue to Spread
by Ro Wauer
The rapidly increasing population of Eurasian collared-doves became a strong reality for me recently when two of these large doves suddenly appeared in my backyard, representing bird number 176 for my yard. In March 1998, when I wrote a nature note about a small population at Six Mile, near Port Lavaca, that was the first time that I had actually seen this newcomer in our area. But almost the same time they began to appear in numerous other places in our region, such as Tivoli, Galveston, and High Island. But soon after that they could be found almost everywhere in towns along the Gulf Coast, and now they can be found throughout the state, from the Lower Rio Grande Valley to the Panhandle and westward to El Paso.
The rapid spread of this dove all across the United States is truly unusual. It apparently arrived in South Florida in 1987, after 50 individuals escaped from a breeder’s aviary in the Bahamas in 1974. It is native to India, but was introduced into Hungary in the mid-1800s and had spread all across Europe and to Great Britain by the 1950s. Soon after the reports from Florida, there were additional East Coast reports from as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada. And soon after that it was reported from Utah and Montana.
It is fascinating to be able to follow a bird's "natural invasion" across the continent. Our abundant cattle egret is an earlier example of such an invasion from an Old World species. These white, grassland birds appeared in Central America during the 1930s, moved north into Florida by 1948, and are now found throughout North America, at least in summer. And a few cattle egrets are resident along the Central Gulf Coastal Area year-round.
It will be very interesting to assess whether or not increasing collared-dove populations have any influence on the longtime resident doves. It is unlikely that the increase in collared-doves will affect the smaller doves - Inca and common ground-doves - but populations of mourning and white-winged doves may decline. Texas Parks and Wildlife biologists are currently studying this topic. The increase of collared-doves eventually may also add another game bird to the list of huntable Texas species.
The two collared-doves that appeared in my yard began feeding alongside the Inca and white-winged doves that already were present when they arrived. They walked around the yard for a brief time, sampling some of the seed, and then just as suddenly flew away. I have not seen then since. However, just like my first white-winged dove sightings a few years ago, that included one or two visitors at a time, they soon learned where they could find a handout. And now white-wings are a daily feeder; as many as eight or ten can be present at once. And since they can clean out a feeder in a very short time, I have started to use feeders with smaller perches so that these really large birds must settle for finding seed on the ground below the hanging feeders. That works reasonably well.
The increase in the numbers of birds that expect a handout on a regular basis is not for the best, although I still want to feed my smaller regulars, such as cardinals, chickadees, and titmice. And posting "big birds are not welcome" signs won't work. Maybe I will cut way back on the feeders and continue to attract birds primarily with water. My three birdbaths are as popular as ever!