Before shotgunners start hunting mourning doves next month at James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, biologists are trapping and banding the birds as part of a national population study.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is allowed people to ride along for the annual count just outside Lee’s Summit. They are banding and examining the doves as part of an outreach effort by the department, said Rick Bredesen, wildlife management biologist at Reed, learning how to identify whether the doves hatched this season or are older birds, and how to tell males from females. Males have brighter colors, with a hue of blue on their heads and pinkish breasts.
The common bird, often seen in yards as well as farm fields, is thought to be declining.
It is a leading game bird, with millions harvested each year.
Nature lovers enjoy its distinctive call at evening, often described as a drawn-out lament, sounding like woo-OO-oo-oo-oo. It is a prolific breeder, sometimes nesting in back yards.
The traps are hundreds of wire cages set in long rows on bare ground, baited with millet, a preferred food. The doves fly down, walk into the trap and are usually stopped from escaping by a constriction in the entrance.
Several visitors to Reed on Aug. 14 helped band and release a handful of doves caught that day.
The luck of weather and intangibles influence how many are caught.
This week it’s been about five a day, the best so far this year is 45, but it can be up to 100.
Local Boy Scout troops helped build the traps.
Trapping runs from early afternoon until evening from July through mid-August.
Tami Courtney, of Holden, who is a site supervisor at Lee’s Summit’s landfill, Dianna Lentz, of Harrisonville and Beth Verstraete, of Pleasant Hill, who also works for the city, were making the rounds with Bredesen and Scott Edwards, a MDC employee.
Lentz and Verstraete are Master Missouri Naturalists, who got training from the Missouri University Extension, who said they enjoy volunteering to help with conservation projects.
The study is to understand the population dynamics of the popular game bird seen frequently in suburban yards too.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses information to govern bag limits for the migratory bird.
Bredesen said there are indications of declines since the first mourning dove counts were being made in the 1950s. Then the method was to stop alongside roads and listen to tally the dove’s calls.
Systemized trapping, started at Reed about 12 years ago, coupled with analyzing wings collected from birds shot by hunters, is considered “a better snap shot,” he said.
The national study that Reed’s data adds to began five years ago. Information on banded birds is sent to the Bird Banding Laboratory in Maryland where it’s available to researchers so records of birds caught year to year can be compared.
Doves banded at Reed have been caught again at places as far away as Idaho or Mexico.
Also, dove wings collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are shipped to Reed in November for analysis, Bredesen said.
He said populations are stable in some areas, but overall seem to be declining and that includes the Central Flyway, where Lee’s Summit is located.
The question is why. Lee’s Summit, adjacent to Reed, once was a tiny town, surrounded by farm fields. Now many of those areas are subdivisions, a story repeated many times over across the nation.
But that’s speculation researchers hope the study sheds light on.