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Bird Bracelets on Dove an Overlooked Prize for Hunters
AUSTIN – To a waterfowl hunter, a duck band is a treasured find. Affixed to a duck call lanyard, these rare small metal rings become testaments of the hunter’s skill or luck and reinforce the conservation success story they represent.
Banding is an integral component for management of all game birds that travel across North America without regard for state, provincial or international borders. These migrants are a shared resource among all hunters. The unique identification numbers stamped onto each leg band illustrate the extent to which these birds are shared, for example, when a hunter on the Texas coast harvests a banded duck that originated in Saskatchewan.
Not all bird bands are viewed as prizes. In fact, the ones affixed to the migratory game bird that gets the lion’s share of hunting attention in Texas are not being viewed at all.
Heading into the summer, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will be trapping and attaching tiny metal leg bands on several thousand mourning dove as part of a larger national effort coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
White-winged dove will also be banded across the state and TPWD will be banding approximately 3,000 whitewings. Banding will be initiated June 1 and concludes August 15.
As whitewing continue to expand across the state, keeping tabs on these dove populations is becoming increasingly important. Only three states are consistently banding white-winged dove, with the Texas banding program being the most comprehensive.
Dove band recoveries are revealing extensive travel records and offer interesting insight into the ecology of this prominent migrant. For instance:
- Most banded mourning dove in Texas do not survive to see a second year and extremely few live past three years of age. The oldest mourning dove ever recovered in Texas was 9 years old and the oldest mourner ever recovered was banded in Georgia and was a whopping 31 years old!
- Mourning dove shot in Texas come from 21 states including Texas, with the most out-of-state banded birds coming from Kansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. A few banded birds traveled all the way from Pennsylvania and Ohio.
- The oldest white-winged dove ever recorded in Texas was 17 years old and the oldest whitewing ever recovered was banded in Arizona and was 21 years old!
- White-winged doves banded in Texas have been recovered in four states including Texas, four countries, and one in international waters (oil rig). The farthest recovered white-winged dove banded in Texas originated in Hidalgo County and was recovered in Nicaragua, 1,242 miles from the original band site.
For Texas, the implications of dove management are significant considering the Lone Star State boasts fall dove populations in excess of 40 million birds and its 300,000 dove hunters harvest about 6 million birds annually or roughly 30 percent of all doves taken in the United States. Dove hunting also has a major economic impact, contributing more than $300 million to the state economy. But, despite having more dove hunters than any other state and harvesting more birds than any other state, Texas has the lowest dove band recovery rate in the nation.
“I think most dove hunters aren’t aware of the banding effort,” said Corey Mason, TPWD’s dove program leader. “Unlike with ducks, hunters aren’t looking for bands and because dove bands are only about the size of a bead they don’t stand out.”
Size does not diminish the importance of these bands and the information they provide wildlife biologists. Data obtained from banding are used to estimate survival and harvest rates and population abundance. These estimates are then used in population and harvest models to determine hunting regulations.
The complete 2003-2010 Dove Banding Summary is available for review online at http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/huntwild/wild/game_management/dove_summary/.
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