That Dove You Shoot Next Month May Have An Ankle Bracelet
LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — South Plains mourning doves have wings, feathers and shiny new ankle bracelets — well, the ones Aaron Sisson's been managing do.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife biologist spends his mornings catching the abundant local bird species and banding them to monitor their migration.
"It doesn't hurt them at all," he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (http://bit.ly/2ay99yi) as he used pliers to carefully attach a band just above a dove's clawed foot. He then loosened his grip on the creature that flapped its wings and took flight.
The rings are tiny and silver, each marked with its own number. The birds appear fairly cooperative, struggling only occasionally.
The task requires almost as much writing as dove-handling.
Sisson records the number from each band he's assigned, then lists a description of the bird now wearing it.
"All the information associated with that bird is on that number," he said.
Now look ahead a couple months, and say you're hunting doves. If you harvest a bird that Sisson has banded, entering that number online will lead you to that data. You might learn, for example, that your dove is an adult male banded in mid-July in Lubbock.
But it just as likely could have come from farther. They generally travel south in the winter and north in the summer, but specifically where they'll land is hard to say.
"They can go anywhere from Canada to Mexico," Sisson said.
And while Sisson works for the state of Texas, biologists from equivalent wildlife agencies in other states and countries have similar marking programs. The website you enter your dove's number — www.ReportBand.gov — is managed by a federal agency.
Other migratory species are banded in similar programs.
Game warden Aaron Sims recalls finding a hawk in Brownfield with an ankle bracelet. A search revealed its branding home: Saskatchewan, Canada.
"It's fun to see where they started and where they ended up," he said.
When banding, some of the doves' descriptors are easier to determine than others. Date and location captured are no-brainers, but age and sex require inspection.
Sisson pointed out the solid coloring on an adult female: "See how she's just kind of plain-jane brown? There's nothing really special about her."
Males, on the other hand, have a rosy-colored breast area.
Determining the sex of young birds is harder.
To find out the doves' approximate age, the researcher looks at their feathers. The primary covert, or tip, feathers are a buffy tan color on doves that have yet to reach their first birthday. Adult feathers are almost completely gray.
As they grow older, they'll eventually replace all their feathers.
Sisson traps the birds using a bait of corn and sorghum. He leaves the bait on empty land for a week before he introduces the traps, allowing them to develop a taste for the grains. Next, he lays the traps upside down. In three more days, the doves accustomed to the presence of the bait and traps, he'll set them correctly.
Another trick is to is to avoid keeping the traps active 24-7. The wildlife biologist baits before sunrise, then returns to the traps at hour or two later.
Sisson: "If they get trapped every time they come, they'll stop coming. I only do one round in the morning."
Nontarget species tend to wander into the traps. Sisson has had to release plenty of quail and blackbirds, along with an occasional cottontail rabbit.
Dove season starts Sept. 1. This year, it's extended a few extra weeks.
Sims, the game warden, reminds hunters of bag limits: 15 per person day.
Some hunting enthusiasts see doves as the kick-off to months of other hunting seasons, he added:
"It's kind of a tradition — that's how you start your hunting season."