Gavin Young, from La Grande, admires a brace of Eurasian collared doves. Similar in taste to squab that is served in fine restaurants worldwide, the doves can now be hunted year-round and with no limit. Of course, itís more humane to harvest the birds in fall or winter when they are not raising young. (JIM WARD photo)
Northeast Oregon residents may not realize it, but aliens are lurking in their neighborhoods. They have beady-red eyes, dome-shaped heads and sharp claws. Even their name, Streptopelia decaocto, sounds like something from the roll call at Area 51. But, before you call Homeland Security, I’m simply referring to a rather benign little creature called the Eurasian collared dove.
Long-story-short, 50 of the birds escaped from a Bahamas aviary in 1970. They quickly multiplied to 10,000 before some made it to the Florida mainland in the mid-1980s. In almost plague-like fashion, they spread across the nation and now reside in almost every backyard in the country except Alaska. According to La Grande birding expert, Trent Bray, they were first officially recorded in Union County in the spring of 2007.
Birders everywhere have enjoyed this beautiful addition to their bird feeders, but it wasn’t long before hunters started paying attention. The birds are fast on the wing and, just like our native mourning dove, are quite tasty. Dave Budeau, game bird coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, says that the collared doves first appeared in the department’s game bird regs in the fall of 2007 — with a season and bag limit concurrent with the mourning dove’s.
“Fears that the newcomer would compete with the native doves proved largely un-founded, but the ODFW wanted sportsmen to take advantage of this opportunity,” Budeau suggested.
After worries that the collared doves might be mistaken for mourning doves were proven insignificant, the birds were removed from the hunting regs in 2012 and can now be hunted year-round and with no limit.
It appears likely that Eurasian collared doves are here to stay and their numbers will keep growing. So, whether youchoose to invite them to your bird feeder or the dinner plate, we may as well enjoy their bounty.
shrub and aspen is another piece of the puzzle. Though elk love the bunchgrass, in the winter, browsing on trees and shrubs supplements their diet.
“We are concerned with the elk impact on aspen and shrub communities. We see them as an important component of the upland prairie ecosystem. They provide nesting habitat for birds and are important food source for a wide variety of wildlife,” said Jones.
He said aspen and shrubs give the prairie structural variation. “All this grassland and then all these isolated spots of shrubs and trees create structural difference and offer different habitat for a variety of wildlife and plants that only occur in those habitats. All of this increases biological diversity.”
Jones said through monitoring it’s been determined that cattle don’t browse on aspen and shrubs like deer and elk do. “We certainly want elk to be a component of the prairie ecology, but the numbers are so high they are currently negatively impacting habitat quality.”
Besides good forage, Jones said the elk may prefer the prairie over the forest because of the numerous stock ponds created over the last 70 years. Before the ponds, there wasn’t much year-round water.
“If you stand on Harsin Butte at dusk you can see the light hitting off dozens of ponds,” said Jones.
Another guess at the elk’s preference for prairie life is warmer winters which Jones said may allow elk to spend more time there browsing on shrubs and aspen.
And yet another assumption is that there may be differences in the canyons that make it less desirable winter habitat. “A higher percentage used to winter in Joseph Creek and Cherry Creek,” said Jones. “Maybe something has changed – predators or motorized vehicles on the national forest?” said Jones.
Keeping an ecosystem in balance includes human influences like ranching and hunting, said Jones.
“There is an intersection of how humans can make a living while being respectful of other living beings across the Zumwalt Prairie. Ranching and bunchgrass prairie are compatible at maintaining an economy along with conserving habitat. In the same vein we see hunting as a human activity that is compatible with a healthy ecological system on the Zumwalt Prairie,” said Jones.
He said hunting is human predation, which not only decreases the population size but it also creates a disturbance that influences the elk’s distribution and therefore reduces their negative impacts.
“It is a tool which allows us to decrease the population, better manage grazing pressure on grass forage for cattle and it provides an opportunity for people to be outside, experience the prairie and have a connection with a beautiful landscape. Hunters have profound respect for both wildlife and landscapes,” said Jones.