Sunday, July 04, 2010

Wild Mourning Doves

Mourning doves are a common wild bird seen across North America. They are hunted by hawks and a long list of predators, including humans. Yet despite their position in the food web as a "fast food" item, mourning doves appear as one of the top ten most-counted bird species every year during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

In my own FeederWatch and Ebird counts, I always have mourning doves.

When I recently posted photos of a mourning dove nest with chicks, I was contacted by someone wanting to buy them.

This individual had rescued a young mourning dove, raised it as a pet, and now was looking for a mate for the captive bird.

While this person's intentions were to do good, they were crossing some important lines.
  1. It is illegal to keep native North American wild birds as pets. Around the world many species are endangered by unregulated or illegal collection for the pet trade.
  2. Young birds raised by humans, frequently are unable to socialize naturally with birds of their own kind and may never breed. (This is a constant issue with bird conservation programs and why such complicated efforts like feeding puppets are employed so that young birds never associate humans as their care-providers and/or parents.)
  3. Rescuing a wild creature means returning it to its normal, wild life whenever possible.

I have offered sanctuary to wild animals for short amounts of time; tree squirrel, California towhee, Allen's hummingbird. Success is seeing that animal living its life in the wild, even if that only means a few days.

The more I observe wild creatures, the less I want any creature to be a pet. Is it difficult to let a creature go back into the wild where it might be eaten by a predator or injured by humans? Yes.

But if you provide safe habitat, wild creatures will come and make use of the sanctuary you offer at the level they need and desire. I am spiritually uplifted watching the preying mantis youngsters emerge from their egg casing, witnessing the trials and challenges of the hummingbirds that I have rescued as they live their own natural lives. I do not need to own them. I don't want to own them. They all have important roles to play in a vibrant, healthy planet. I hope you can start to see the wild creatures around you in this way too.


Katie (Nature ID) said...

At what point does the line cross from rescuing to keeping a pet for a bit? Case in point:

4animalbytes said...

I think you cross the line when you alter the animals natural behavior to the point that it can impact their natural survival. The mourning dove in the cited website appears to have been very young when it was rescued. If it has imprinted on humans the chance that it will interact with others of its own species and breed are in question. When you step forward to rescue a wild animal you always face the dilemma that your actions will have negative ramifications. But we do the best we can and hope that the wild thing can return to a normal, natural life.

Anonymous said...

I live in Napa, CA where for many years I could see at least seven pairs of Mourning doves in the overhead wires daily. Now there are none. When walking my dog a few weeks ago, I came across a home nearby with a small cage which can be seen from the street with a dozen or more Mourning doves. I reported this to the Fish and Game department, and they told me if I could prove they were trapped then they would approach the resident with the caged birds because trapping Mourning doves is illegal. I can't prove they were trapped. What should be my next step?


4animalbytes said...

Keeping any native wild bird captive is against the law unless you are a licensed wild animal rehabilitator and the animal is injured or unable to survive if released. You do not have to prove that the wild bird was "trapped." At the same time, there are a number of dove species that look similar to mourning doves that are indigenous to other places in the world. These species are often kept by people as pets. Releasing a non-native species into the wild would not be a good thing. It is unlikely that someone is capturing the mourning doves that you used to see. It is more likely that introduced predators (domestic cats) or loss of food and habitat are the cause for the birds moving on. If the caged birds can be identified as mourning doves and not Eurasian collared-doves or some other dove species, your best action is to contact your local animal regulation department.