Attracting Mourning Doves to Your Property
Mourning doves are primarily seed eaters but will also feed on some insects. Corn, sunflower, millet, wheat, ragweed, pokeweed, panic grass, and white pine are just some of the seeds that comprise their diets.
The mourning dove breeding range includes the lower 48 states, parts of southern Canada, and Mexico. On the average, a mourning dove will raise 3 broods during the breeding season which runs from March - September. Doves will generally return to the same areas they were hatched year after year.
Unlike other game bird species, including the bobwhite quail, woodcock, turkey, or ruffed grouse, mourning doves have adapted to most human conversions of natural habitat to that of "clean farming" and "rural" subdivisions. Doves are an edge species associated with agricultural fields, orchards, pastures, and urban settings.
Orchards are important mourning dove nesting habitats in certain areas, while cemeteries are in other cases. To create nesting cover for mourning doves on your property, plant small clumps (2-3 trees) or even several single coniferous trees around open fields or even the front yard. Where coniferous trees are lacking, artificial nesting platforms made out of a wire mesh can be placed in the fork of a branch of deciduous trees, 5-10 feet off the ground. Doves will defend the territory around their nest site. Therefore, you will want to make sure you have plenty of potential nesting sites scattered around your property.
One of the single best things to plant to attract doves is sunflowers. The Perdovick variety (60 day maturity) of sunflowers has been found to work best. A field somewhere between 2-5 acres is sufficient. An excellent place to create a dove field is in a power line right-of-way. The power lines will provide natural perches; however, shooting at power lines is illegal. The sunflowers can either be drilled using a corn planter or broadcasted and lightly disced. For optimum use, the sunflowers should be drilled in rows. Doves like bare ground. You should get the seed in the ground somewhere around the first week in June so that it matures by mid-August to early September.
About 3-4 weeks before dove season opens, disc down or mow a couple of strips of sunflowers. This will attract the doves into your field rather than your neighbors'. Throughout the season, disc down several more strips so as to always supply seed which is easily found. Mourning doves prefer to feed in the open where there are few visual obstructions.
As an alternative, plant a field in alternating strips of sunflowers and buckwheat with an outside border of buckwheat. The Perdovick variety of sunflowers should be used and should be planted so that it matures in mid-August to early-September. The buckwheat should be planted at the same time but will mature earlier than the sunflowers and attract and hold the doves until the sunflowers mature. The soil should be kept weed free under the sunflowers. This can be accomplished with 1-2 cultivations. Doves prefer it open under the sunflowers for easy access and for ease of finding seed. After the sunflowers ripen, strips should be mowed through the dove field with additional strips being mowed periodically over the remainder of the dove season. This will keep a food source available all season. After the seed is gone from the previously mowed strips, disc these strips to allow for the doves to pick up grit and also give them an area to dust in for control of parasites such as lice and mites.
Planting rates for dove fields: Perdovick sunflowers 6-10 lbs./ac. and buckwheat 40-45 lbs./ ac.. If using millet you should use 25-30 lbs/ac. alone, or 15-30 lbs./ac. in a mixture; milo or sorghum 7 lbs./ac. in rows or 10 lbs./ac. if broadcast.
Another inexpensive way to attractive doves is by simply discing or plowing a field in early to mid March. This type of soil disturbance will stimulate the growth of annual seed producing weeds such as ragweed, sunflower, pigweed, and croton. Again, you may want to mow strips throughout this field prior to the hunting season, depending upon the thickness of the vegetation.
Around the edges of the dove fields, girdle a couple of sweet gum, red maple or other less desirable species. Doves really love dead trees for roosting. In addition, a 30-40' wide strip of switchgrass (Cave-in-rock, Shelter, or Blackwell varieties) can be planted (8 lbs. pure live seed/ac.) around the perimeter of the field to create blinds.
Whenever possible, create 2 or 3 dove fields in different areas of your farm. Rotate your hunting pressure between the fields, different days of the week throughout the season. The doves will get less spooked and tend to stick around longer.
Baiting is illegal! However, the agricultural practices described above are all legal practices. A agricultural crop may be mowed, bush hogged or knocked down and made more available to doves so long as it is not harvested and then redistributed on the field.
For further assistance, contact a Wildlife Biologist from the VA Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.