How To Capture and Band a Mourning Dove

First you must bait the fields, which have been disked properly by an approved U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee. The area where the bait is placed must first be raked smooth, so the doves can see the bait and have a nice landing area to wander around in and leave footprints. You should probably not joke about leaving dirt angels (like a snow angel, but in dirt) when asked by your boss if you did raked and baited correctly. (What kind of question is that though, really?) Also you should probably not leave messages written in the dirt for said boss, though said boss never did see it.

Baiting the dove field.

After you put out the bait (sunflower seed is what we used) place a metal trap over the bait pile. There is an art to putting out bait. It must be perfectly arranged under the trap or the mourning doves won’t come. They’ll just hang out around the outsides of the traps and not go inside and get caught.

Whitney with the seed bucket.

After an hour or so, go back and check the traps. If there are doves in them, cover the trap with a sheet to calm them down so they don’t hurt themselves against the wire before you get them out.

Whitney removing a dove from the trap while Brady busies himself with the bands.

If you’re really lucky you’ll catch more than one or two doves at a time. However, in my experience, you only catch multiple doves when a big storm is blowing in and the last place you want to be is crouched over a metal trap in the middle of a wide-open field as the lightning gets closer and closer. Then you’ll catch 20 at a time. Other days, maybe 5.

Lauren removing a dove from the trap. Brady stands in the back being exceptionally useful.

After removing the mourning dove from the trap, determine age, sex, and molt status. If any of the feathers on the body and wings have buffy tips, it is a young (hatch year) bird. If it is a hatch year, then the sex is unknown. If it is an adult, males have a slate colored patch on the crown and rosy-tinted feathers on their breast. Females are plain and boring looking. Molt is determined by looking at the wing feathers and seeing which one is growing in, and therefore is shorter and a slightly different color than the older feathers.

Whitney figuring out molt status.

Once you have all that information figured out, a numbered band from the USGS is placed around the right leg of the dove. We were given 100 dove-sized bands, so once 100 are caught we’re done. The banding is done to help gather information about the doves during the dove hunt.

Brady preparing the bands.

Once the band is on, and the the information is written down, release the dove and start over!

Lauren with a dove.
You can’t really tell, but this is an adult male mourning dove. Most of the adults we catch are males.  Nancy thinks this is because males are dumber than females. Might make an interesting study…
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