Mourning Dove – Project Report



The mourning dove is one of the most abundant and widely distributed game birds in North America. The breeding range of the mourning dove extends from southern Canada, throughout the United States and into Mexico. Doves may winter throughout most of their breeding range, but many migrate south to winter in the southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America to western Panama. The mourning dove is also a popular game bird. A recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey estimated that doves provided 8.1 million days of hunting recreation for nearly 2 million people, and more doves are harvested in the U.S. than all other migratory game birds combined. In Virginia there are nearly 30,000 dove hunters that take about 400,000 doves each year.

Mourning dove populations are monitored through harvest surveys and breeding population surveys. One such survey, the Call Count Survey (CCS), includes more than 1,000 randomly selected survey routes throughout the U.S., and has been conducted each spring for the past 39 years. The information collected from this survey, which includes both the number of doves seen and heard, is used to monitor dove population trends over time.

Several new dove management programs have been initiated in recent years to help refine harvest management strategies for this species. Technical Committees for the different Dove Management Units (Eastern (EMU), Central (CMU), and Western (WMU)) have been established, and a National Dove Strategic Harvest Plan has been developed. The Strategic Plan calls for the establishment of large scale management programs that will generate information for the development of population models and establish a more rigorous basis for dove harvest management. These management programs include annual leg-banding, harvest surveys, a wing collection program (for harvest age and sex evaluation) and improvements in population surveys.

The mourning dove banding project, which involves 29 states across the country (Figure 1), was initiated in 2003. The objectives of the study are to evaluate dove harvest and survival rates, dove movements, and to provide information to develop dove population models. This information is in turn used to develop harvest strategies and hunting regulations. The project was initiated as a 3-year pilot project (2003-2005) and is being used as a model to initiate a nationwide annual dove banding program.



Study protocol involves trapping and banding representative samples of mourning doves across broad geographic areas (states and subregions) during the pre-hunting season period (July and August). Banding quotas have been established for each Dove Management Unit, for sub-regions, and states based on doves population indices. Virginia is included in the South Atlantic sub-region along with North and South Carolina.

Doves are captured with funnel or drop door traps baited with various grains including sunflowers, corn, safflower, millet, and wheat. Doves are trapped during the pre-hunting season period of July and August. All doves are banded with standard USFWS leg bands. Doves are aged (HY, AHY, unknown) based on wing molt, and adult doves are categorized as male or female based on plumage characteristics. It is difficult to determine the sex of juvenile (HY) doves, so all juveniles are assigned to the unknown sex category. All doves are released at their capture location.

Results and Discussion


Mourning doves have been banded in Virginia for the past 4 years (2003-2006) (Table 1). The banding has been conducted at 30-40 sites each year to provide a representative sample of doves across the state. Banding quotas have been met each year in Virginia and in most sub-regions and Management Units. Nearly 2,500 doves have been banded in Virginia and 134,000 doves have been banded nationwide over the past 4 years.

In the first year of banding (2003), all doves received a standard USFWS band on their right leg and half the birds received a gold-colored band on their left leg. In the second and third years of banding (2004 and 2005), a sub-sample of birds were banded with special reporting rate study (“reward”) bands. In 2006, doves were banded with standard leg bands only.

The purpose of the gold-colored band was to determine if hunters were detecting the bands on the birds. Very few doves have been banded during the past 30 years and hunters are not accustomed to looking for bands on doves. The presence of the gold band as a second band was used to help draw the hunter’s attention to it and makes it easier to detect. Results from the 2003-04 hunting season indicated that doves with gold bands were reported at a higher rate than birds banded with just a standard band. In Virginia, 64% of the banded birds reported were double banded/gold banded doves, and nationwide, these double banded birds comprised 60% of the reported bands. This suggests that some of the bands were overlooked by hunters and that not all leg-banded doves shot by hunters were detected or reported. Efforts have been made to make hunters aware of the dove banding program and to encourage hunters to report all banded birds.

The “Reward” bands have monetary reward values stamped on them that hunters can claim when they report the band. Information obtained from these reports help provide an estimate of the band reporting rate, or the number of bands that are recovered and reported to the Bird Banding Lab. It is essential to know the band reporting rate in order to calculate parameters such as harvest rate and survival rate.

Band reporting rates averaged 67.8% for Virginia. This means that of all the banded doves that were shot by Virginia hunters, 67.8% were reported to the Bird Banding Lab and 32.2% were not reported. The reporting rate for the Southeastern region was 70.8% and nationwide the reporting rate was 56%.

Dove Movements and Harvest

Data from dove band recoveries can provide information on bird movements, harvest rates, and even population size. Although the number of dove band recoveries has been relatively small in Virginia (from 14 to 33 per year, Table 2), these recoveries have provided some important information on doves in the state.

Harvest Distribution

The band recovery distribution indicates that doves do not move very far between their summer capture location and the fall/winter hunting period. Data from the first three hunting seasons (2003-04 to 2005-06) indicate that over 80% of the recoveries have come from within 30 miles of where the birds were banded, and very few have been recovered more than 50 miles from their banding location. In addition, 100% of the adult doves and 98% of the juvenile doves that were banded in Virginia were also shot in Virginia. Similarly, within the South Atlantic sub-region (NC, SC, VA), 95% of the dove band recoveries occurred within the state of banding. Nationwide, over 80% of the recoveries occurred within the state of banding.

Harvest Derivation

Maryland and Pennsylvania are involved in the dove banding project but none of the other northeastern states are currently banding doves. Therefore, it is difficult to assess the number of northern birds that get shot during Virginia’s hunting season. However, over the past 4 hunting seasons, only 6 doves banded outside of the state were shot in Virginia. Three of these came from Pennsylvania, and 1 each came from Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Timing of the Harvest

Over 75% of the band recoveries have occurred during the first two weeks of the hunting season and nearly 90% have occurred during the month of September (the first segment of the hunting season). A much smaller percentage has occurred during the second segment of the hunting season (4%), while 8% have come from the late segment. This is an indication that most of the harvest occurs early in the season. However, since most of the northeastern states are not banding doves it is difficult to assess how much and when migrant doves are contributing to the harvest.

Harvest and Survival Rates

Harvest and survival rates were calculated from band recovery analyses. Harvest rates in Virginia for the period 2003-2005 were 3.5% (SE=0.021) for adults and 5.2% (SE=0.026) for juvenile doves. Harvest rates in the other South Atlantic Sub-region states (SC, NC) were slightly higher. Survival rates of doves in Virginia were the highest in the sub-region and averaged 69% for adults and 24% for juvenile doves for the 2003-2005 period. Average survival rates for doves in the South Atlantic Sub-region were 39% for adults and 22% for juveniles.

Population Estimate

Population estimates were derived from band recovery analyses and Harvest Information Program (HIP) data. Estimates varied significantly across years because of problems with the HIP survey sampling frame and the variance around the harvest rate estimates (Otis 2006). The average population estimate for Virginia during the period 2003-2005 was 10.5 million doves. The estimated population for the 28 states that hunt mourning doves was 320 million.

Plans for 2007

Banding will be conducted again in 2007. Procedures are similar to the past 4 years. The banding period will be July through August. The banding quota is 500 doves statewide with a target of approximately 50:50 juveniles to adults. Banding quotas in the sub-region and in the Eastern Management Unit are similar to the 2003-2006 banding periods.

Band Reporting

Hunters are reminded to report all bands. Data obtained from band recoveries is very important in determining population characteristics and monitoring bird movements and distribution. This information is needed to establish or modify migratory game bird hunting seasons, and to improve our habitat and harvest management strategies. It is very easy to report bird bands with today’s modern technology. Bands can be reported over the Internet through the USGS Bird Banding Lab Web site, or by calling the Bird Banding Laboratory’s toll-free number (800-327-BAND). The Bird Banding Lab is the central processing station for banding information from across the country. After you report the band, you will be sent a “Certificate of Appreciation” that will provide information on where and when the bird was banded. Help us learn more about our Virginia doves by reporting all banded birds.

Literature Cited

Otis, D. L. 2006. Summary report of the 2003-2005 pilot mourning dove reward banding study. USGS Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011. 50pp.

Tables and Figures

Table 1. Banding quotas and the number of doves banded during the preseason period (July and August) from 2003 – 2006 in Virginia, the South Atlantic Region, the Eastern, Central and Western Management Units, and Nationwide.
VA South Atlantic Region EMU CMU WMU Nationwide
Quota 450 2,000 12,000 8,000 4,000 26,000
Number Banded 475 3,100 16,072 9,838 2,878 28,788
Quota 500 2,695 16,296 10,930 5,366 33,426
Number Banded 560 3,158 17,842 12,039 3,415 33,296
Quota 500 2,000 12,000 8,000 4,000 26,000
Number Banded 822 4,139 19,135 10,393 4,283 33,811
Quota 500 2,000 12,000 8,000 4,000 26,000
Number Banded 639 3,514 22,450 10,846 4,591 37,887
Table 2. Number of doves banded in Virginia and the number of band recoveries reported by hunters in Virginia, 2003 – 2006.
Year Number Banded Total Number of Recoveries Recoveries from VA Recoveries Outside VA
2003-04 475 14 14 0
2004-05 560 27 27 0
2005-06 822 25 24 1**
2006-07 639 33* 28 5**
* Preliminary estimate
** 3 from Pennsylvania, 1 each from Maryland, North Carolina, and West Virginia

Figure 1. Map of the states that participated in the 2003-2006 Dove banding project. The state of Indiana joined the study in 2004, and California and Wisconsin joined the study in 2005


Updated: July 2007