Foam Lake Birding No. 50

No. 50
When I started this column a little over a year ago, I could not imagine writing my fiftieth article. A little while back when I realized that I was going to reach that milestone, I decided that I would feature the Sharp Tailed Grouse, Saskatchewan’s bird emblem. However, I could not get a picture of one, so the grouse was set aside for a later article. Just as I was beginning to fret over this problem, a “solution” landed on the power line in the lane just behind our backyard.
On June 7th my wife and I were in our solarium having our morning coffee and watching dark clouds trying to provide us with some much needed rain. A Mourning Dove landed on the power line in the back alley, so I decided to pick up my binoculars and, just for the fun of it, to count the spots on its lower back and wings. Somewhat to my surprise there were no spots anywhere, so I nonchalantly looked at its upper body and head. To my very real surprise, I noticed the black collar on the back and sides of its neck. I knew what I had in my view. My “Mourning Dove” was actually the Eurasian Collared Dove, an introduced species that was a newcomer to our area.
However, as I have written previously, I needed more proof that my identification was correct. To that end, I notified several birders in the area to be on the lookout for this newcomer. Nothing happened until the next morning when a bird, that I initially thought was a hawk, landed on the power pole in our back alley. The rain stopped; the sun came out; the picture was taken; identification was confirmed. It definitely was the Eurasian Collared Dove. Furthermore, we heard the dove cooing. The vocalizations were similar yet noticeably different from that of the Mourning Dove, and fit the descriptions in the bird books perfectly. Such is the world of birding.
The history of the Eurasian Collared Dove is an interesting one. As its name implies, it is a native of Europe and Asia where it is simply known as the Collared Dove. When we were in Ukraine two years ago it was very common in villages and cities as long as there were a few trees around. In the mid 1970s, it was introduced into the West Indies where it thrived. In the early 1980s it flew over to Florida where it also thrived, and from where it started to spread explosively across North America. Its expansion has been so rapid that many bird books do not even have the bird listed as being present in North America. The 2007 edition of the Peterson Field guide shows the Collared Dove as having just reached southern Saskatchewan. Just two years later it is in Foam Lake. It is following the same general pattern of colonization that the House sparrow and the Starling did just over a century ago.
In article No. 44, I stated that it was easy to identify a Mourning Dove as it was the only wild pigeon around. With the recent arrival of the Collared Dove casual identification is no longer possible. As implied earlier, at close range or with binoculars, identification is quite easy, but otherwise it is more problematic because both birds are approximately the same size, sandy grey in colour and have the same general profile. There are several subtle differences, but in the real world of birding with the effect of sun, shadows and perspective they are of little value in identification. The amount of white in the tail is about the only field mark that can be relied on by the casual observer. Both birds have white in the tail, but the Collared Dove has much more white that can be seen by the naked eye at quite some distance. Thankfully, both doves are quite vocal as this is the surest means of telling the two apart. The sound quality of both is very similar and one can easily assume that they are produced by the same species, but by paying a little extra attention the differences can be easily noted. The Mourning Dove utters a four part song that goes like this: cu hoo hoo hoo. At a distance, all four notes are heard in the same pitch, evenly spaced and hollow sounding vaguely resembling an owl’s hooting. Close up, the first syllable is a little higher pitched and a little more forceful. The Collared Dove makes a three part song that is higher pitched and more forceful than that of the Mourning Dove. It goes like this: cu-coo cu. The first two notes follow each other quickly with the accent on the second and with a little more space between the second and third notes.
In 1994, I saw my first House Finch, a native but introduced species, in my backyard and since then it has become a common year round resident. Fifteen years later, I now have had the same experience but with the Eurasian Collared Dove. According to the experts this is not a one time occurrence but the permanent invasion of a new species. Time will tell. Unlike the Mourning Dove, which is highly migratory, the Collared Dove is a year round resident. Whether it will be able to withstand our severe winters or be forced to migrate remains to be seen.
I am including two pictures so that readers can compare the two doves. The photo of the Mourning Dove was taken in California last December; the picture of the Collared Dove was taken this June 8th in our back lane in Foam Lake. I hope that the written descriptions and the photos help readers with identification.