Derrick Wolter cups a dove in his hands

Monitoring a Texas resource

Dove hunters may be more interested in their sport or in the meal they will prepare with their take than they are in the tiny ankle bracelets more and more doves are sporting these days.

Avian fashion statement? No, the plastic or aluminum band that a hunter may find on a dove’s leg is a centuries-old way of learning about and monitoring “annual survival rates, harvest rates, site fidelity, movement, and estimated population size,” according to Derrick Wolter, a wildlife biologist with Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

According to the United States Geological Survey, “The first record of a band attached to a bird’s leg was [in] about 1595,” while Dr. Paul Bartsch of the Smithsonian Institution “initiated systematic, scientific bird banding in North America in 1902.”

Each band used today contains a unique code, “a kind of social security number, if you will,” says Wolter, as well as a toll-free number and/or a website for the person who recovers it to use.

Derrick Wolter with a dove

Wolter, who has been banding white-winged and mourning doves across Central Texas for 10 years, works with other biologists and trained volunteers. They band doves by using small, walk-in funnel traps monitored by on-site observers. Once the bird is trapped, observers record the GPS point of the site, collect the doves, record data concerning each bird, attach bands, and release the doves. “The process in designed to be quick, impose minimal stress on the bird, and have it back doing what it does naturally as quickly as possible,” Wolter explains.

Data from all birds banded in the U.S., including doves banded in Texas, is sent to the Federal Bird Banding Laboratory located in Laurel, Maryland. “Birds do not recognize state boundaries,” says Wolter, “so it’s important that data on banded birds be housed at a single site.” As an example, he says that years ago he noticed a sick mourning dove and saw that it was banded. He reported it to the Bird Banding Laboratory and learned that it had been banded in Nebraska the year before.

Banding a dove

Wolter says banding is important because “one banded bird gives you information; thousands of banded birds tell a story.” The banding of mourning doves and white-winged doves has become an important way for TPWD to manage dove populations in coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because mourning and white-winged doves are game species and a renewable natural resource, banded birds help biologists estimate dove populations in Texas. “We band thousands of doves, so knowing exactly how many doves were banded in a given year helps us estimate our total state dove populations.”

Banding doves is also important because, as Wolter explains, “in Texas, we have doves year around, and many more migrate here from northern states in the winter. An increasing white-winged dove population means increased competition for limited resources for all seed-eating birds, so monitoring dove populations through banding, combined with field surveys and managed harvest, allows for a wise use of the resource.”

Derrick Wolter holds a dove

Dove hunting has a significant economic impact in the state of Texas, contributing more than $300 million to the state economy, according to the Texas Dove Hunters website. However, even though Texas hunters harvest about 30 percent of all doves taken annually in the U.S., the state has the lowest dove band recovery rate in the nation.

With that in mind, Wolter says, “It’s important to note that any bird of any species could be banded, so always keep an eye out, since a banded bird provides little data until someone reports it.”

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