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Scott Rall: How many and how big?

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

Almost all of the mail I get comes to the Post Office box at my LPL Financial Services office. Very little mail except junk mail and birthday cards etc. go to the personal address on Lexington Avenue. When I looked in the mail box the other day and saw a letter from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, I knew it was something out of the ordinary.

I was randomly asked a few years ago to participate in a survey as a member of the dove hunting crowd in Minnesota. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service does lots of research every year to monitor and manage the migratory birds that move north and south all over North America.

Mourning doves are considered one of the most popular game birds on this continent and this makes managing their numbers very important. I have hunted doves every year since the season started about 5-6 years ago in Minnesota. They move out of our area after the first frost, and as a result our season that is scheduled to last for several months in actually lasts about three weeks in most years.

The USFWS sends me an envelope to return one wing from each bird I harvested for the first two days I hunted each season. If you did not get any then you returned the envelope empty. This allows them to gauge the harvest averages for each hunter that purchases a license. What they are really looking for in addition to the numbers of doves harvested is to determine the average age of each dove harvested from a cross-section of hunters from all over the United States.

The letter they sent recently included the results of this data collection from the previous year.

The numbers are pretty interesting. The average life expectancy of a dove in the wild is about 13-15 months. Some live a little longer, and a 3-year-old dove is very rare. In Minnesota the service received 261 wing samples. Of those, 30 were the ones I submitted last fall. The average age of a dove harvested in Minnesota was 1.94 years. The average age of all of the doves sampled from all over the central region was also 1.94 years. The oldest doves were from Oklahoma and they were 3.16 years old.

Doves must live longer in warmer climates, I concluded. This idea got shot down when I discovered the shortest average age was .79 years from New Mexico. I figured New Mexico was for the most part considered a warmer climate as well.

These average age results from the central region were exactly the same as doves sampled on the west coast. In the eastern states the average age was 2.5 years. There were a total of 15,045 wings that were aged sampled.

Dove hunting is popular across the United States and is gaining in popularity in Minnesota, at least in the southwest parts of the state.

There is an interesting addition to this data. There is an invasive species of bird that to the average person on the street would look like and be considered my most to be a mourning dove. It is called a Eurasian collared dove. They are a little bigger than your normal mourning dove and have a little more white on them that you can see when they are in flight.

The Eurasian collared dove is expanding their range across the nation and because they are considered an invasive species they can be hunted year-round. There are not enough of them in our area at present for anyone to go pursue them as a stand-along hunting effort. There is a pair of them in my neighborhood and they make some pretty aggressive sounds. They can certainly wake you up in the morning.

In the 30 wings I submitted last year there were six wings of the invasive species included in my sample. Whether this invasive bird ever takes a hold in numbers large enough to have an impact on other native bird species is yet to be seen. I do make special effort to harvest them if they get into my gun range. If their expansion is extensive enough for their numbers to flourish, then hunters might very well hunt them even when the normal dove season is closed.

Everybody thinks that invasive fish are the only problem faced by our native wildlife in Minnesota. This could not be further from the truth. There are many invasive plants and other animals that are not fish that can and do cause problems across the state and the nation.

Whether Eurasian collared doves become one of those is still a mystery. If you plan on doing any dove hunting next fall, now is the time to manage your property for the elements necessary to draw doves to your spot. Doves are attracted to small grains like wheat or oats, and a small food plot planted in the next few weeks will be ready in time for the Sept. 1 opener. As the popularity of corn and beans has surged, the amount of small grains planted in our area has declined to the point that if you any of this small grain around there will most certainly be doves there in the fall.

I just made my last batch of doves in a sour cream sauce and they were just awesome, even though those who have never tried it will say there is not enough meat on a dove to eat. These folks are just wrong. I will spend the next few months, if it ever warms up, to prepare the wild game I harvested from the past hunting season. There is never any that goes to waste at my house.

My mom, Arlene Rall, won the smoker that the local Pheasants Forever chapter had as a prize at their last banquet. This summer will be filled with experimenting with a few new smoker recipes. I will be in the need of a few taste testers until I get this figured out. May 15 was the deadline to finish up the spring burning season and when the day came and went I was involved in about 300 acres of burns. Now we have to continue to manage the volunteer trees and squeeze in some fishing along the way.

Summer is almost here. Before we know it the temperatures will be cooling and another hunting season will be getting near. Make a plan to do something for wildlife this summer. Even if that is just planting a small spot for pollinators like honey bees. If everyone does just a little something, our wild creatures will all be better off.