Dear Bird Folks,
We have an odd-looking dove eating under our feeder. We’ve decided that it’s either a Eurasian Collared-Dove or a Ringed Turtle-Dove. Any idea which one it is?
– Beth and Terry, Chatham, MA
It’s tough, Beth and Terry,
Identifying similar-looking birds firsthand can be tricky, but identifying them via email is nearly impossible. If you could somehow send me a picture of your mystery dove, it would make my job a lot easier…and I’m all about anything that makes my job easier.
Dear Bird Folks,
Here’s a photo of the dove we wrote to you about. I hope it helps.
– Beth and Terry
That’s amazing! All I had to do was ask for something and you produced it. Do you have some kind of super powers? What else can you do? Can you conjure up a plasma TV for me? I know that sounds selfish, but it really isn’t for me. Father’s Day is coming up and I just learned my real father could be Arnold Schwarzenegger and I want to get him something nice.
The mystery bird in your yard is a Eurasian Collared-Dove (not to be confused with the Collard Greens Dove from Southern Eurasia). But before I write about it I need to say that Eurasian Collared-Doves are quickly spreading into many parts of the U.S. and we had better be prepared. I don’t mean to imply that these birds are evil or will be part of the next Rapture rumor. But I get the feeling that some people reading this will think, “Who cares about doves from Eurasia?” and flip the page to something more interesting. Well, we don’t really need to care about them, but they are spreading. In the not-too-distant future Eurasian Collared-Doves could be regular visitors to our backyards. Therefore, if everyone reads about them now I won’t be plagued with more questions about mystery doves when they do show up. It will save me a lot of work down the road. And as you know, I’m all about anything that makes my job easier.
At first glance, collared-doves appear to be large Mourning Doves, but collared-doves have a distinguishing feature; oddly enough, this distinguishing feature is a collar. Collared-doves have a black collar on the back of their necks. They also have a squared-off tail, which is different than the Mourning Dove’s pointed tail. And unlike Mourning Doves, collared-doves don’t produce that loud, startling wing-whistle every time they take off. The edgy people will be pleased to learn that.
I know a lot of folks think of doves as stupid birds. (Come on, admit it. You do.) But Eurasian Collared-Doves are a very successful species. Back in the 1600s, before many of you were born, collared-doves were restricted to the area around India. Then, for reasons known only to the doves, they started to expand their range. A number of them left India, flew northwest and set up breeding populations in Turkey and other surrounding countries. They remained in Turkey for centuries, enjoying the many antiquities and feasting on Turkish Taffy. Then one day, again, for reasons unknown, they decided that living amongst antiquities was getting old, and began once again to expand their range. This time they headed to Western Europe. The first collared-doves moved into Germany in 1945. (What? They moved to Germany in 1945? As I remember, 1945 wasn’t Germany’s best year. Maybe doves aren’t so bright after all.) By 1955 collared-doves had found their way to England and soon expanded throughout most of Europe.
How did they make it all the way to Chatham, MA, you ask? Collared-doves are strong flyers, but not strong enough to cross the mighty Atlantic. They would need help to do that. Help arrived in 1974 when someone brought them to the Bahamas, and the doves took it from there. Miami is only less than 200 miles from Nassau, which is a piece of cake for these birds. Collared-doves were soon breeding in Florida and have been expanding their range ever since. Now collared-doves can be found in many U.S. states, breeding as far west as California and even as far north as Canada.
A growing population of an invasive species is usually not a good thing (just ask any Native American), but it’s too soon to know if collared-doves are going to be a problem. Remember, there was a huge vacuum created in the ecosystem when billions of Passenger Pigeons were obliterated. Perhaps collared-doves will quietly fill that niche. (My personal hope is that these birds will fill even a bigger void: the one that was left in my heart when The Oprah Show ended. Oh, if it were only that easy.)
There seems to be little doubt that the collared-dove population will be increasing. The birds have quickly learned to take advantage of human handouts. As you have found out, Beth and Terry, like other doves, collared-doves will readily come to our backyard feeders. But they also feast on the tons of waste grain produced by farmers each year. In addition, collared-doves are highly prolific breeders and may produce as many as six broods in a single season. Wow! That’s a lot of kids. They are able to produce so many offspring, in fact, they are known as “the Schwarzenegger of the bird world.” I’ll bet you didn’t know that.