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Mourning dove study takes flight

Thousands of doves received free jewelry this summer. Lightweight metal bands were placed on the legs of Mourning Doves after they were trapped in fields as part of a nationwide study aimed at examining the harvest rates of one of the most-hunted birds in North America.

Thagard Colvin, a wildlife biologist at the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries District IV office in Andalusia, and field technician Kerri Kelley completed six weeks of banding mourning doves Tuesday as part of the study.

Colvin said 130 mourning doves were banded in Covington County in hopes that hunters will call the toll-free telephone number on the bands when the birds are harvested.

Colvin said it is the first study in more than two decades when he participated in a banding study while working in Georgia in 1971.

His experience came in handy.

"I went to Georgia and got some of the traps we had used in 1971 to use as a model," Colvin said.

Colvin said the majority of birds banded were adult males, which surprised him.

"The trap catch has been heavy toward adult males, which seems to indicate the females are still on the nest laying or incubating eggs," Colvin said.

Colvin and Kelley took down information on each bird banded, including age and sex, to submit to the national data center for the study in Maryland.

Three mourning doves outsmarted the biologist and got two free meals returning to the traps after being banded for the tasty bird seed.

The cooperation of hunters who harvest the birds is a vital part of the study. Officials need hunters to call the toll-free number when a banded dove is harvested to help determine the mortality- or harvest-rate of the birds during the three-year study.

Reporting banded harvested doves helps obtain the information that will permit better management of this important migratory bird resource. To report a banded mourning dove, hunters should call 1-800-327-BAND (2263).

Operators are on duty 24 hours a day, Monday-Friday during hunting season. During other hours, leave your telephone number on the voice mail system.

Banded birds may also be reported online at www.pwrc.usgs.gov.; select "Birds" then "Bird Banding Lab." Hunters can keep the bands.

Hunters also will receive a certificate identifying the age, sex, date and location the bird was banded.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division is just one of several state organizations from the Eastern Dove Management Unit participating in a nationwide mourning dove banding study. States participating include the 36 states from Florida to the U.S.-Canada border.

The objectives of the three-year study are to determine mourning dove harvest rates, estimate annual survival, provide information on the geographical distribution of the harvest, and develop and refine techniques for a future operational dove banding program.

Information on dove survival and harvest rates is key to understanding the effects of annual hunting regulations on mourning dove populations.

Current estimates of survival and harvest rates are from band recovery data collected from 1965-1975 because no large-scale banding programs have been in place since that era. More current population models have been developed and require current data.

For more information on this study, contact Jeff Makemson, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Biologist, Mourning Dove Banding Project Leader at (205) 339-5716.