Songbird Protection Coalition
About Mourning Doves
The perch coo and whistling wings make them one of the most recognized avian species. Zenaida macroura, commonly known as the Mourning Dove, is one of Michigan's most beloved backyard songbirds.
This status, as songbird, has helped to maintain Michigan's long heritage and tradition of mourning dove protection and preservation since 1905 - longer than any other state in the union. Additionally, this legal status provides protection, without exemption, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; which makes it unlawful to "take" (pursue, hunt, shoot, poison, wound, or kill) the mourning dove within the state of Michigan.
Monogamous, doves pair for life. Males take an active parental role. Both parents incubate, produce crop milk, feed older nestlings, and defend territory from potential nest predators. Males sit the nest during the day, females at night. Incubation takes about 14 days and the squabs are fledged in about 14 days. Doves are often seen visiting feeders as bonded pairs.
The breeding population is biologically unable to compensate for shooting pressure. A national average of 3.5 young per year are successfully fledged per breeding pair. In Michigan, the population merely maintains stability with a fledged success average of 2.2 young per year/pair. An average of only two or three nesting attempts are made during the season in Michigan; in hot southern climates as many as five or six attempts can be made in some states. It is important to note: "attempts" do not suggest success.
The mourning Dove is the only known species hunted during part of their nesting season. Over 10 percent of all feldging occurs during the months of September and October. If one parent is killed from nests with eggs or young, the remaining adult is most commonly unable to successfully fledge squabs - who will both die in the nest of starvation. Consumptive-use commissioners cruelly consider this "acceptable losses."
Mourning doves are beneficial to man; as a generalist, they are primarily seed eaters who feed on the ground. The seeds of pest weeds, waste grain, or other plant material make about 99 percent of their diet. They do not cause damage to crops, are not over-populated, and do not threaten or harm any other species.
Although considered a migratory bird, "migration" in the mourning dove is often misunderstood because they are a dimorphic species: one segment of the population migrates - and the other does not. The mourning dove's winter range has been gradually moving north year by year and Michigan harbors a large resident non-migrating population. It is important to note, this is the portion of the population that would be hunted if the legal songbird status is ever changed.
The mourning dove is one of the 10 longest surviving species in the Bird Banding Lab Database, holding a record of 31 years 4 months. This record is held amongst species of Albatross and Terns.
The natural mortality rate for the mourning dove holds the same average mortality rate as other songbird species in any given area. Dove hunting propaganda would lead you to believe that hunting does not contribute "at all" in reducing dove numbers - this claim is untrue. Dove populations from groups of non-hunting states in the Northeast and Upper Mideast have much higher annual survival rates.
The natural life span of free-living doves ranges between 7-11 years. The breeding population and most nests that are successful occur in doves over 1.5 years of age. In states where the dove is hunted, the life span for banded doves is commonly between 1-1.5 years. Comparably, non-hunting states have significantly higher survival rates and report more stable populations than do hunting states, which often report declining populations.
Scientific research of population densities within the Eastern, Central, and Western Management Units have shown long-term population declines, and several population status reports note significant declines in all three units. During this time, dove hunting has been legalized in many "new" states and the decline in some states has shown to be significant and cumulative in only 10 years...especially in the northern most range of these units.
Michigan's peak dove population is about one percent of the total estimated mourning dove population in the United States.
Dove shooting proponents reluctantly concede that hunting is not needed to "manage" the mourning dove population and that there is no environmental or reasonable reason to use doves as a "consumptive resource" in Michigan
The mourning dove is known as Michigan's official Bird of Peace. Since 4500 B.C., doves have been revered as symbols of peace, love, and virility. The mourning dove inherited the stature of bird of peace.
The fossil record is known to trace the birds back 1.8 million years in the Americas. Mourning doves have proven to be quite adaptable to change and have successfully coexisted with man throughout the centuries.
Mourning dove behavior and the connection Michigan citizens have today with doves as a traditional songbird, has made them an important part of a multi-billion dollar backyard bird watching and feeding industry. More people feed birds than watch football, baseball, or any other sport. Bird hobbyists outnumber all hunters and anglers combined.
The mourning dove is the closest relative of the passenger pigeon. The passenger pigeon was hunted to extinction by shooters within the span of only a few decades. Prior to extinction, it was America's most abundant gamebird - five billion strong.
Historically, mourning doves were not recreationally hunted in the United States. The emergence as a gamebird is a comparatively recent phenomenon which started in the Deep South, where big shoots are said to be lengthy "shootin', pickin', partyin'" affairs.
Toxic lead ammunition deposits in dove shooting fields pose a lingering environmental management problem with an accumulative effect. This effect, as reported in studies, represents a real threat to populations of mourning doves as well as other wildlife populations feeding in the area.
Dove hunters admit to enjoying fast flying targets and their main component of testimony flows around the "fun" aspects of shooting a fast erratic flyer. Dove hunters refer to mourning doves as "a disposable animal, cheap skeet, winged warriors from hell, rats with wings, locusts, darters, little gray rockets, devious birds, kamikaze pilots, fast-balls, jinkers, screwballs, snuffers, elusive targets, tricks, torpedoes, warp burners, zippers, zingers..."
Hunting doves is very inexpensive and does not contribute to the economy or tourism, as some might lead you to believe. Even the MUCC confirms "the inexpensive nature of the sport, since the birds are found almost everywhere in these states, hunters needn't travel far." Furthermore, doves are generally used as "warm up practice" for other seasons covered under the license of small game, so an additional license purchase is not required and the DNR analysis states "it is not expected that a mourning dove hunting season will result in additional sales of small game licenses."
Unretrieved and wounded birds are an undeniably cruel result of dove season. Finding downed birds is very difficult due to the effective camouflage color which blends within dove habitat. Additionally, shots taken are not clear kill shots which result in a significant crippling loss rate of about 30 percent.
The adult mourning dove's weight changes considerably throughout the year. The lightest body weight for both males and females occurs during the months of September and October - during hunting season. They do not provide a viable human food source. Most recipes call only for dove breasts - the fastest and most popular method of dressing doves is referred to as "breasting-out." A properly shot dove yields about one ounce of edible flesh. Dove recipes show breasts to be covered in sauces, bacon, and heavy seasoning due to a strong pungent citrus flavor.
The majority of avid hunters and sportsmen clearly express personal beliefs and adamantly oppose the "hunting" of doves, cranes, swans, or wild pigeons as legitimate game species.
Many avian species (including protected, threatened, and endangered) are mistakenly shot by mourning dove hunters who target birds on the wing. The misidentification of fast erratic flyers is an unfortunate mistake that happens to both experienced and inexperienced hunters alike.
The American kestrel, a federally protected falcon, is often mistakenly shot by mourning dove hunters because of its similar flight pattern, size, and preferred habitat.
Despite laws in other states which prohibit the shooting of doves on utility lines, it is evident from authoritative outdoor publications that dove hunters encourage shooting near power and telephone lines.
Special interests, in a desperate attempt to cover the weakness and ugliness of their position, dismissively attempt to label citizens who object to doves being slaughtered as "emotional, unreasonable, or anti-hunting," or accuse people of "impinging and inflicting morality upon others."
Statewide opinion polls over the last 40 years have repeatedly shown the vast majority of Michigan citizens, including the majority of Michigan hunters, are opposed to dove hunting in Michigan.
Historically, the Natural Resource Commission, with the assistance of the Department of Natural Resources, bypassed the legislature, ignored significant public opposition, and illegally established a mourning dove season in Michigan. Due to the blatant violation of public trust, the courts  issued a permanent injunction that the DNR/NRC cannot promote the hunting of doves in Michigan. Both the DNR and NRC repeatedly violated this injunction several times.
In 2004, the Michigan legislature, knowingly went against their constituents and passed HB 5029 in a rushed lame-duck session. Public Act 160 of 2004 (now repealed via public referendum vote) re-classified the mourning dove from a songbird to a game bird, to allow annual statewide shooting seasons. The citizens of the state of Michigan collected more than 285,000 valid signatures and qualified the referendum for the November 2006 statewide ballot. All 83 counties of Michigan overwhelmingly rejected the shooting of doves in Michigan: 69 percent of Michigan voters agreed - there is no reason to shoot doves in Michigan!
With the exception of the Natural Resources Commission rushing to open a shooting season in 2004 (also going against the peoples' wishes), mourning doves have been protected in Michigan for more than 110 years. If a statewide shooting season were opened in Michigan, an estimated 300,000 mourning doves would be removed from Michigan's population each and every year.
See Michigan Audubon's position statement here.
The mourning dove belongs to all citizens of Michigan and the majority want them to remain a protected songbird. The law protects our right to participate in this decision through our legislative representation. That law must be upheld and protected in the state legislature to keep doves protected.
We are the majority, we remember, and WE VOTED to permanently settle this issue!