How to hunt this flashy and early-migrating species known as the white-winged dove
The white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica) is larger than the more recognized mourning dove, but otherwise shares many physical characteristics. Compared to the mourning dove, their range is far more limited. In this article, we’ll dive into the description, range, and conservation issues of this unique bird.
Description and life history of the white-winged dove
The white-winged dove is a small bird measuring about ten to twelve inches in length and weighing about four to six ounces (NatureServe, 2018). It has a plump oval body, short round tail, pointed wings, a small head, and a thin pointed bill. They are tan on top and grayish white on bottom. Their wings have a bright white stripe down the leading edge. It’s where they get their name from. When they take flight, this white stripe really stands out against an otherwise dark gray or black wing (All About Birds, 2018).
Their tails often have a white tip that is more apparent when they are in flight. Their eyes have a larger light blue ring around them distinct from mourning doves. Also different from mourning doves, they sport a horizontal dark black streak just behind and below their eye. Mourning doves have a black spot in the same location. Their soft, cooing call, a “hoo-HOOO-hoo-hoo,” is very similar to mourning doves.
White-winged doves are known to gather in large flocks when they are not nesting, especially during migration or when traveling between roosting and foraging areas (ibid). Courtship displays consist of the male gliding around the female or raising and fanning its tail to show the black and white feather pattern (National Audubon Society, 2018). After pairing up, males choose general territories while females choose the actual nesting site. This is often located in large shade trees like pecan, live oak, and ash or along water features (NatureServe, 2018).
The males will bring twigs, grasses, and Spanish moss to the female who then constructs a bowl-shaped nest about four inches across (All About Birds, 2018). Females typically lay one to four creamy-white eggs. She will take turns incubating them with her mate for about thirteen to fourteen days (National Audubon Society, 2018; NatureServe, 2018). Like other dove species, the chicks are fed pigeon milk, a fatty and nutritious secretion produced in the crop. They are taken care of by both parents for an additional thirteen to eighteen days until they can leave the nest (National Audubon Society, 2018; All About Birds, 2018). Dove pairs may raise two to three broods each year and may nest in loose colonies if the habitat conditions are high quality and adjacent to foraging areas.
White-winged doves often forage on the ground feeding on wild seeds like: spurge, panic grass, bristlegrass, Mexican jumping beans, Chinese tallow, leatherweed, saguaro, lime prickly-ash, brasil, privet, pigeonberry, and ocotillo. Grains they eat include: wheat, sunflower, milo, corn, and safflower. They also eat fruits (All About Birds, 2018).
The white-winged dove tends to feed slowly on larger seeds where the mourning dove pecks very quickly. White-winged doves are thought to be an important pollinator of the saguaro cactus. They often feed on the fruits and drink the nectar from their flowers, especially in the Sonoran Desert (ibid). Snails and bone fragments provide a source of calcium should the need and opportunity arise. Likely, it is to enhance their crop milk (ibid).
Common predators of adults or young white-winged doves include: “great-tailed grackles, green jays, cactus wrens, Gila woodpeckers, great horned owls, woodrats, deer mice, gray foxes, Norway rats, black rats, house cats, and snakes” (ibid). When nests are threatened by a predator, adults may taunt the predator away by flapping about and pretending to have a broken wing. White-winged doves are popular to hunt during the season.
Range and habitat of the white-winged dove
The white-winged dove is predominantly a bird of southwestern states and Texas. It also occurs in Florida and some of the Gulf states (National Audubon Society, 2018). Most of the global population occurs throughout Mexico and Central America as well as the West Indies. The American population often migrates south of the border in September and returns in March. Some remain in suburban areas throughout the winter.
The white-winged dove is a common resident in arid regions with dense thickets, saguaro cacti, mesquite groves, chaparral, open oak woodlands, or riverine forests (NatureServe, 2018; National Audubon Society, 2018). Yet they also occur in human-altered areas like open farmlands, citrus groves, tree plantations, and cities.
The increase in agricultural areas and suburban ornamental trees in the south seem to have provided additional habitat for the white-winged dove further north than its historic breeding range. While doves in the Sonoran desert meet much of their water needs by feeding on the saguaro cactus, water features are a critical habitat element for the white-winged dove in other arid regions.
Conservation issues for the white-winged dove
The white-winged dove is listed as globally secure and of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List (NatureServe, 2018). The global breeding population is estimated to be around 8 million birds with about 57 percent spending some part of the year in the United States and 34 percent in Mexico (All About Birds, 2018).
Although humans removed a large amount of their native habitat in the past, the birds have adapted to cities and suburbs. Perhaps backyard bird feeders and artificial heat sources are to thank. Whatever the cause, this has allowed them to move further north than their historic range (National Audubon Society, 2018). Hunting was once responsible for drastically reducing populations in the early twentieth century. The introduction of regulated hunting seasons and sales of migratory game bird stamps has helped conservation efforts significantly (All About Birds, 2018).
Other potential conservation concerns include additional habitat removal, use of pesticides in agricultural fields near bodies of water, and bird strikes with utility lines, vehicles, or buildings (NatureServe, 2018; All About Birds, 2018).
Hunting opportunities for the white-winged dove
As mentioned, the white-winged dove often occurs in large flocks prior to and during their migration. This is timed quite well with most hunting seasons. As a result, hunting white-winged doves can be really exciting if the birds don’t migrate before opening day! Here are some dove hunting tips and a few places you can hunt them in America:
|Alabama||North Zone: September 8-October 14, November 17-November 25, & December 15-January 27 |
South Zone: September 15-October 21, November 17-November 25, & December 15-January 27
|Arizona||September 1-September 15||30 birds|
|Arkansas||September 1-October 28 & December 8-January 15||45 birds|
|California||September 1-September 15 & November 10-December 24||30 birds|
|Florida||September 22-October 14, November 10-December 2, & December 19-January 31||45 birds|
|Louisiana||North Zone: September 1-September 23, October 6-November 11, & December 16-January 14 |
South Zone: September 1-September 9, October 6-November 25, & December 16-January 14
|Mississippi||North Zone: September 1-October 7, October 27-November 7, & December 22-January 31 |
South Zone: September 1-September 9, October 6-November 7, & December 15-January 31
|New Mexico||North Zone: September 1-November 29 |
South Zone: September 1-October 28 & December 1-January 1
|Oklahoma||September 1-October 31 & December 1-December 29||45 birds|
|Texas||North and Central Zones: September 1-November 4 & December 21-January 14 |
South Zone: September 14-October 30 & December 14-January 21
Special White-Winged Dove Season: September 1-2 and September 8-9
Since white-winged doves tend to migrate earlier than most species in September, the weather conditions can dramatically change how a hunting season plays out. Too many pre-September storms and unusual cold northern winds can quickly send the American population south before hunters get a crack at them.
As for where and how you should go dove hunting, you have a few options. The states listed above are some good places you can hunt them north of the border. Texas ranks the highest in terms of dove harvest. In fact, Texas averaged 82 percent of the nation’s white-winged dove harvest from 2003 to 2014 (Texas Wildlife Association, 2018).
Like many mourning dove hunts, you can often set yourself up on grain field edges sitting on a simple bucket. Loads of white-winged doves will fly right into shooting range as they come to feed. An improved cylinder or modified choke provides a better chance of hitting these fast-flying and talented birds. Shot sizes of No. 7, 8, or 9 would all work fine as long as you are leading your targets well. Since they are migratory bird species, you will need to buy a migratory bird stamp and use non-lead shot. It’s safer for you and the environment, anyway.
If you want to try your luck at hunting white-winged doves, get out there soon before they migrate south. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait until next season to get a shot!
All About Birds. 2018. White-winged Dove. Accessed at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/White-winged_Dove/lifehistory
Ryan Lisson is a biologist and regular content contributor to several outdoor manufacturers, hunting shows, publications, and blogs. He is an avid small game, turkey, and whitetail hunter from northern Minnesota and loves managing habitat almost as much as hunting. Ryan is also passionate about helping other adults experience the outdoors for their first time, which spurred him to launch Zero to Hunt, a website devoted to mentoring new hunters.