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CASH Courier > 1995-1996 Autumn - Winter Issue

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The C.A.S.H. Courier

Autumn - Winter 1994-1995 Issue

THE MOURNING DOVE - STOP THE GAME AGENCIES FROM MAKING THESE GUYS LEGAL TARGETS FOR HUNTERS

By Ronda Engman

Autumn 95/Winter 96

If you feed the birds like I do, your feeder is probably filled with blue jays, evening grosbeaks, cardinals, and mourning doves, among other avian species. If you’re a New Yorker, this bucolic scene may soon be threatened. Assemblyman Jacob Gunther, who represents Sullivan County, has indicated that he will introduce a bill in December to reclassify the mourning dove as a game bird. This would effectively allow mourning doves to be hunted.

In the forty states that allow the hunting of mourning doves, forty nine million doves are killed annually. You may think that with so many doves killed and still plenty at your feeder that there must be enough for New York hunters as well. Think again.

There are five sub-species of mourning dove, three of which reside in the U.S. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), whose job it is to protect and maintain healthy populations of migratory birds, does an annual survey of the numbers of calling (i.e., male) doves throughout the country. But since this survey is of calling birds and the surveyor need not see the birds to count them, the survey gives no indication of the population size of the various subspecies. In other words, the department whose job it is to maintain healthy populations of doves has no clue as to the size and health of individual subspecies populations. Theoretically, a hunter could kill the last member of a subspecies and the FWS wouldn’t even know it.

If you think of races of Homo sapiens as equivalent to subspecies of mourning doves, you can see how important it is to the concept of bio-diversity to maintain healthy sub-species populations.

The largest subspecies of mourning dove resides in the East. It’s not likely that it will cease to exist if it is hunted in New York, at least not soon. In fact since the birds are killed as they migrate south, it would probably mean that hunters in Pennsylvania on south would just have fewer doves to shoot. And just how many birds does a hunter need to shoot?

According to David Dolton, FWS’s mourning dove expert, a morning dove yields only a few ounces of meat. To make a single meal, a hunter would have to kill four doves. To feed a single meal to a family of four, a hunter would have to kill sixteen. [Editor’s note: Most hunters do not eat what they kill.]

How does hunting affect morning doves? The removal of 49 million birds means more food and nest sites for those that survive – a plus of sorts. But the removal of 49 million birds – a significant portion of the gene pool – is a minus for the health of the population. In addition, experienced breeders – birds that have bred before – tend to be more successful than first-time breeders. If experienced breeders are killed, this is a minus for the doves.

How does hunting mourning doves affect other animals? FWS estimates the crippling loss rate to be 30% of the total number of birds killed. In other words, 12 million of the 49 million birds killed each year are not cleanly killed, but wounded, with all the pain and suffering that goes along with it. Most of these birds die in the brush somewhere. In some cases, they are eaten by foxes, coyotes, and other animals. This is a plus for the scavengers. But mourning doves are one of the principal foods of Cooper’s hawks. The removal of 49 million doves has got to have a negative effect on them. [Also, lead shot may be used]

Here’s another example of how hunting mourning doves is bad for birds: I once visited the Madalyn Baldwin Center for Birds of Prey in Florida. I asked the director why she had so many kestrels. It’s legal to hunt mourning doves in Florida, she replied. “Kestrels sit on telephone wires like mourning doves and the hunters shoot them.”

How would the hunting of mourning doves in NYS affect you? There are more serious effects than the fact that you would probably see fewer doves at your feeder. Despite the fact that it’s a violation of federal law to shoot utility wires, hunters do it regularly. According to an employee of Citizens Telecom, a company that provides telephone service to millions of New Yorkers, such an episode occurred recently in Delaware County.

Birdshot is just a bunch of tiny pellets packed into a plastic casing called a slug. When the gun is fired, the slug opens and the pellets are propelled out in a tight formation which gets looser and wider the farther they travel. A single pellet hitting a fiber-optic cable could blitz thousands of phone calls (including 911 calls), faxes, computer modem transmissions, and so on. To repair the damage costs big bucks paid for by that telephone company’s customers. The same is true for cable television and electric wires. Should your work and your personal safety be sacrificed for the pleasure of a bunch of sick individuals who get their kicks from killing “itty-bitty birds,” as one hunter called them? I don’t think so, and I’m sure you agree.

How can you help? If you live in New York, please write to your state assemblymember and senator and tell them you are opposed to the hunting of mourning doves. Write to the top New York State officials at your telephone, electric and cable television companies and ask them to oppose any legislation that would reclassify the mourning dove as a game bird or that would allow it to be hunted. You can get the names and addresses of these officials by calling the local offices of these companies. In addition, write letters to your local newspapers and call your local radio and television stations. Make this problem an issue. Get your friends, neighbors, and bird clubs involved. Write to your Assemblymember, Legislative Office Building, Albany, NY 12248. Ask them to make sure the bill doesn’t get out of committee.

RONDA ENGMAN IS VICE PRESIDENT OF NYSCA – NEW YORK STATE COALITION FOR ANIMALS. SHE IS THE COORDINATOR OF C.A.S.H.’S PEACE FOR DOVES CAMPAIGN. RONDA MAY BE CONTACTED THROUGH THE C.A.S.H. OFFICE OR AT 607 589 4031.

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