An Animal Rights Article from


Ann Woltjen
January 2008



The Dove, symbol of peace, symbol of romantic love, a magnificent and delicate beauty. It is a bird that fills our senses with grace. It is grace personified.

One day, as I was taking a bike ride, moving along swiftly, fairly mindlessly on a bike path, I passed by two Doves sitting serenely next to the bike path. They were on the side, before the slope formed going down toward the river. I stopped and looked back toward them. It was a parent and its baby. The young bird was on a learning expedition with its parent. There was a strong relationship between the two, a quiet and definite rapport between them. I had never seen anything like it before, this kind of education and loving relationship between birds.


The thing that has come to my mind, in watching Doves and other birds such as the cardinal, was that not only are these song birds superior in terms of their beauty and delicate nature, they are also more advanced evolutionarily. The Dove is dainty in its movements. It is very sensitive to change in the environment, but makes sure to form an opinion before taking action. Many birds will fly away at the slightest movement or sound, but the Dove will pause, look and decide. There is a thought process. It formulates a decision before flying away. It has a richer and more highly developed being that other birds, such as the grackle or sparrow.

As such a peaceful and breathtaking creature, highly refined, magnificent bird, it is astounding to find that it is a hunted bird.



The Mourning Dove lives year round lives in the United States. It travels north to Canada and south to Central America.  It migrates along flyways over land. There is the spring migration north, and then the fall migration south (which also is the hunting season). Doves migrate during the day in flocks.

The Mourning Dove is monogamous and forms strong pair bonds. The female usually lays two eggs. Both sexes incubate the chick. The male incubates from the morning to the afternoon. The female incubates the chick from the afternoon to the morning. Incubation takes two weeks. Doves are devoted parents. Nests are very rarely left unattended by the adults. Both parents feed the chicks softened food, and later seeds. The baby grows feathers over a period of 2 weeks. The chicks stay with the parents for a few more weeks before leaving.


(information taken from Ecology and Management of Mourning Dove, Thomas Baskett)

In order for a bird to be legally hunted in the United States, it must first be classed as a “Game Bird”. The Dove was not considered a game bird at first.

Regarding the term of Game used for Mourning Dove – Theodore Palmer, chief law enforcement officer of the United States Bureau of Biological Survey (predecessor of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service) traced the evolution of the term “game” in the United States. He wrote that Frank Forrester had declared in 1848 that, although “game” was an arbitrary term, it applied in its first and most correct sense to “those animals whether of fur or feather, which are the natural pursuit of certain high breeds of dogs.” Palmer added, “I can not lend my humble sanction to the shooting of Pigeons or calling them game”.

(T.S. Palmer Chronology and index of the more important events in American game protection, 1776-1911. Biological Survey Bulletin, #41.)

As of 1900, the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU) definition of gamebirds still excluded the Columbidae (Mourning Dove). Model legislation developed in 1886 by the AOU’s committee on the Protection of Birds, did not include Doves. Eventually it was listed as a game bird rather by default, as people were hunting it and it had no specific protection.


“This ambiguity about the sporting status of the Mourning Dove probably existed because preoccupation with the enormous flights of Passenger Pigeons simply drew attention from the smaller, less conspicuous but more widely distributed Mourning Dove.” “Also at this time hunters focused on food staples when hunting, and Doves did not provide a good return for expenditure of ammunition.”

“The enigma of the Mourning Dove as a sporting species persisted long after the turn of the century. In some instances, the feeling can be clearly explained on grounds of moral or other personal beliefs. This position is well exemplified by William Hornaday, an influential conservation persona of the early twentieth century. A once avid hunter, Hornaday was one of the most vocal, uncompromising, controversial members of an emerging group of staunch wildlife preservationists. He adamantly opposed Dove hunting: “I do not approve the new game-bird status of the Mourning Dove. It is another thorn in my flesh. That lovely and lovable bird is a farm and family ornament. Where I was brought up, any man killing Doves as game would have been jeered at”. Hornaday acknowledged that his aversion to recognizing the Mourning Dove as a gamebird was inspired by an injunction from his mother, “a charge as binding as one of the ten commandments.”

(Thirty years war for wild life: Gains and Losses In The Thankless Task. William T. Hornaday. 1931. Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund.)

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Mourning Dove had been both hunted and protected, depending on the state’s preference. In northern states, where populations were sparse, it was protected. In the southern states, it was killed for recreational hunting. Because of the presence then of the Passenger Pigeon, the Mourning Dove was not given much attention. It was the smaller of the two species and so the Passenger Pigeon was the bird that hunters focused on, in their hunting exploits. Eventually the Passenger Pigeon was hunted to extinction, and attention was therefore turned to the Mourning Dove to hunt.

Before the United States Government passed laws protecting migrating birds, laws and regulations were issued by states, and these were printed in Farmer’s Bulletins. In 1916, the federal government took over regulations for migratory birds at the Convention between the United States and Great Britain for the Protection of Migratory Birds (United States / Canada Convention) 1916. This afforded the Dove some protection across all states.

“The United States of America and His Majesty the King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas, Emperor of India, being desirous of saving from indiscriminate slaughter and of insuring the preservation of such migratory birds as are either useful to man or harmless, have resolved to adopt some uniform system of protection which shall effectively accomplish such objectives.”

In 1918, 27 states banned hunting of Doves. As of 2007, only 10 states ban Dove hunting.

States that ban Dove hunting are: Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont

The Mourning Dove currently is extensively hunted. Yearly, in the United States and Canada, of a population of approximately 130 million, 45 million Mourning Doves are killed by hunters. As such, you can assume that the gun lobby and hunting lobby, as well as the current US Fish and Wildlife look upon the peaceful, delicate Mourning Dove as a giant pot of gold to bring in money, money and more money.


The history of hunting of the Mourning Dove, the Michigan case.

An interesting case of pro-animal versus pro-hunting factions in the United States can be seen in action, with the attempt of the Michigan legislature to bring back Mourning Dove hunting after an 80 year-long ban. Though there was tremendous backing to bring back the Dove hunt by the gun lobby, the hunting lobby and the republican legislature and senate, a grass-roots campaign by citizens opposed to Mourning Dove Hunting successfully kept the ban in place. From numerous articles in the newspapers, the argument was attempted, that a win for the Dove Lovers, was an attempt to try to ban hunting altogether. However the argument did not carry the day and the Dove Lovers and the Doves won!

The sides

Pro Doves

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Animal Welfare Institute
Fund for Animals
Humane Society of the United States
Michigan Audubon Society
Michigan Federation of Humane Societies
Michigan Humane Society

Anti Doves

Michigan Bear Hunters Association
Michigan Hunting Dog Federation
Michigan United Conservation Clubs
National Rifle Association
National Wild Turkey Federation
Safari Club International
U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance


1905 The Michigan Legislature adopted a ban on Mourning Dove hunting.

1985 Natural Resources Commission brings forward legislation to approve a Mourning Dove hunting season.

Michigan Humane Society filed suit and won. The Natural Resources Commission cannot establish new “Game” without the State Legislature’s approval.

1995 The State Senate approved legislation creating a Mourning Dove hunting season. It failed in the House.

1999 A Republican representative introduced a bill adding Mourning Doves to the list of game species. The bill passed the House, but did not pass the Senate.

2003 A Republican representative reintroduced legislation legalizing Mourning Dove hunts.

2004 The legislature approves adding Mourning Doves as a “Game” species.

Michigan Governor (a Democrat) signs the measure as long as the Natural Resources Commission establishes a pilot program.

2004 Committee to Restore the Dove Shooting Ban, announces a referendum petition drive.

2004 Natural Resources Commission approves a Mourning Dove season.

2004 3,000 hunters take part in a Dove hunting season.

2005 Dove hunting opponents turn in approximately 300,000 signatures from Michigan voters — about 75% more than needed to get the issue on the 2006 ballot.

The 2005 and 2006 Mourning Dove hunts are suspended after the Board of State Canvassers certifies petitions to block the law.

2006 By a margin of 2-1, Michigan voters declared dove hunting illegal.


In 1971, the Wisconsin legislature designated the Mourning Dove as the state’s official bird of peace and took the bird off the list of game species. In 2003, the Mourning Dove hunt ban was lifted.

If you look at Wisconsin as compared to Michigan, it is evident that putting the issue on the ballot was successful in saving the doves in Michigan. Bringing a lawsuit against the DNR to save the Dove, failed in Wisconsin. Lesson – need to get the general public involved, because government works hand-in-hand with the hunting lobby and hunters.


2000 Dove hunt opponents bring lawsuits. (Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Cranes and Doves), July 13, 2000

2001 - Dove hunting season on hold. Lawsuit rules DNR illegally set dove hunting season

2003 - Wisconsin Citizens Concerned for Cranes and Doves filed a lawsuit after the DNR scheduled a hunt, arguing that the Legislature never intended for the bird to be hunted.

2004 - Dove hunting opponents argue case to Supreme Court. Dove hunt goes forward while case is being decided. 202,000 Mourning Doves Killed in 2003. Supreme Court of Wisconsin upholds the Dove hunt, ruling that DNR has the power to allow the bird to be hunted.


In 2004, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty signed a bill reinstating Mourning Dove hunting after 46 years without one.

In 1994, Ohio passed legislation allowing Dove hunting for the first time in 80 years.

The Iowa legislature approved Dove hunting legislation in the 2001-2002 session, but it was vetoed by Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack. 

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