Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Biologist James Whitaker releases a mourning dove he banded. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of John K. Flores)
LDWF continues National Dove Banding Program
James Whitaker, a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist, turned his truck onto an oil field service road this past week.
For years, the road was utilized by Chevron Corporation and provided access to one of the company’s well locations on Rockefeller Refuge in Grand Chenier. The company since has removed its production equipment, where the remaining pad in the refuge’s marsh now makes an excellent capture site for banding mourning dove.
Coming to a stop a short distance from the location, Whitaker picked up his binoculars and glassed 21 walk-in traps made from vinyl coated square mesh. The traps were baited just after daylight, and this was the biologist’s first pass at catching a few mourning doves.
Since 2003, when the National Banding Program for dove was initiated, Louisiana, like most states in the lower 48, has participated in the effort during July and August annually. Louisiana is part of the Eastern Management Unit.
“Our objective with any migratory game bird is typically learning survivorship and estimating population densities of resident birds,” Whitaker said. “We also look at band recovery rates and their locations, which can tell us things like migration patterns.”
Since the program’s beginning through 2015, 251,395 dove have been banded in the Eastern Management Unit, 205,930 in the Central Management Unit and 93,364 in in the Western Management Unit. Band recovery numbers during the same time period are 15,667, 11,949 and 3,670, respectively, from each unit.
According to Whitaker, there have been band recoveries reported as far away as Mexico from birds banded in Louisiana.
Louisiana is broken down into geographical regions that participate in dove banding. Whitaker says biologists also try to get certain subsets of every age and sex class within each region consisting of hatch year male and female and adult hatch year male and female.
Whitaker, originally from Arkansas, has been banding dove on Rockefeller Refuge since 2014 and learned a number of things in the past several years.
“When I came here, I had a lot of dove banding experience from previous work, plus I enjoy doing it and know how important it is,” Whitaker said. “But, we know that dove are staying here year round in this region, because I’m getting a significant number of recaptures from previous years, dating back to 2014, 2015 and 2016 through trapping efforts. They also have everything they need right here on the Chenier plain of southwest Louisiana to survive. Therefore, though some do, there is little need for them to migrate.”
Besides banding, dove population estimates also are determined by spring breeding bird surveys, where during the month of May, biologists and volunteers count every dove seen or heard cooing along 50 stops in a 24.5-mile-long route. Each stop is 3 minutes long.
In Louisiana, there are 19 randomly selected routes across the state.
Other information used to complete population studies are random hunter surveys known as the Migratory Bird Harvest Information Program, or HIP.
Additionally, there is an annual “wing bee,” where wings of harvested dove are counted and reviewed for sex and age. As of 2015, the Eastern Management Unit mourning dove population is estimated to be 68.2 million.
Dove season bag limits and season lengths are based on liberal, restrictive and closed cases, which typically equate to a 15, 10 or 0 (Closed Season) daily bag limit during a 90-, 70-, or 0-day (Closed Season) season length, respectively.
One thing Whitaker also is trying to determine this year is what type of seeds doves prefer. Traps were baited with either whole corn, cut corn, milo or Chinese or Japanese millet.
“One year, I used milo, because it was significantly cheaper, but my trapping success was greatly reduced,” Whitaker said. “So, this year I’ve got all of these different baits out here on traps to look at what dove prefer. It’s a way to save public tax dollars and state funding. The goal is to find a good bait that has a high success rate for capture and is economical for the department.”
So far, Whitaker said, Chinese and Japanese millets are getting the nod.
Estimates indicate, during the 2015-2016 Louisiana dove season, 33,000 hunters harvested 597,300 mourning dove. One thing that Whitaker emphasizes to hunters who harvest a banded dove is they need to follow up and report the band at www.reportband. gov just like they would a waterfowl band.
“It’s very important information to us,” he said. “It’s especially important on dove and other small bands. The process online is self-explanatory and very easy.”