TDHA recognizes the need for more emphasis on preserving and conserving our natural habitat for all game in Texas. There are some great strides being made by some very respectable organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Quail Coalition, Quail and Pheasants Forever, National Wild Turkey Federation and many others who join in this effort. TDHA feels all these organizations whose main focus is for the game they represent are also for all game. Dove many times have been referred to as the gateway game to the sport of hunting so we are, by virtue of the sport, all together in this effort. Like ducks, dove will come and go with changes in the weather.
Let us not ever be accused of taking dove for granted. The state of Texas is in a geographical location within the central flyway that is known for inconsistent weather patterns. Simply put, things like El Nino years, adverse rain conditions (droughts and flooding) and temperature fluctuations all play a big role in the timing and numbers of migrating birds in and out of Texas. This past year is a good example of how the change in temperature had an effect on numbers in certain parts of the state. The delay in cooler temperatures reaching the south kept birds farther north for a great part of the first season. The gulf coast region had a slow start for dove and ducks, whereas the panhandle area did very well early on. Why is all this so important? Let’s look at history. As weather plays such a big factor in Texas, the number one determinant is WATER. Drought has been one of the most adverse issues for ducks and quail to have to overcome. What was essentially a two year drought drove the quail population’s way down and then just as soon as we came out of it with record rainfall we now have a really good resurgence of quail. Taking a look even further back, snow geese were once plentiful in the Bay City area and now can hardly be found. A severe drought limited their food and habitat and so the adult snow geese made their way to Nebraska breaking the cycle of habitual migration to Texas. The result is that their offspring only know to migrate to Nebraska.
Looking at the 2013-2014 dove season which was preceded by a drought year , harvest numbers were down 15.5% over the previous 2012-2013 season and they were down 27.4% over the 10 year average (2003-2013).We can’t predict the weather in Texas, nor can we predict all the other issues that factor in this equation. But, if we don’t learn from the success DU has had in preparing native habitat for the ducks and a severe weather change were to occur without the proper habitat in place, we will see the number of dove diminish or be affected significantly as they were in 2013-2014. Texas Dove Hunters Association is of the mindset that that if you wait for a problem to occur, you’re too late. Thanks to record rains, current population studies are showing mourning dove as well as white winged dove and even Eurasian ring necks all to be on the rise again, but all of that could change in the course of a year.
TDHA has acquired the assistance of Dr. Eric Grahmann of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute assisting us in developing guidelines to benefit gamebirds (including dove) through habitat management and restoration recommendations for our state. Eric also heads scientific research projects on the ecology, management, and restoration of northern bobwhite, scaled, and Montezuma quail in Texas. We are excited to have Eric working with us as we echo a lot of the same needs for habitat improvement for all game birds in Texas. Texas is about 90% private lands, therefore the challenge is to assist and convince landowners to take unused pastures and place them into a native habitat program that is good for game birds. This does not mean creating a killing field for dove; our goal is to provide food, shelter and quality nesting habitat easy for them to find. Dove are a migrating bird so they, by nature, will return to a field or general area if they know their needs will be met. As you can imagine, the proper habitat will increase the numbers on that pasture over time as they become more accustomed to what’s available and where. TDHA is working with The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on identifying some pilot properties in various parts of the state to work on a project to improve the habitat on those lands. Another key component to this program is, of course, research. There are good statistics and numbers on populations, harvests and hunters already, the need for more extensive baselines like monitoring, banding, mortality, life expectancy, disease, nesting studies etc. are where we will be spending some extra time expanding on existing data. For more information on improving the habitat on your land, contact Texas Dove Hunters Association at (210) 764-1189.
WRITTEN BY ERIC GRAHMANN
Eric Grahmann is Assistant Professor of Research at the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Based in San Antonio, he heads a quail outreach program that focuses on providing free technical guidance to landowners and quail enthusiasts focused on the restoration and management of wild quail and other wildlife in Texas.