At Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, we get a large number of questions – some as basic as hunting season dates and others…well…which require some more explaining. For instance, why can’t I hunt ibis or ground-doves? Although it may seem like an odd question to some; it’s actually a great question – why do we hunt some species and not others? Why do we consider doves and waterfowl as migratory game birds whereas we wouldn’t think about hunting other migratory bird species?
For migratory game birds, it’s rather simple (yet… complicated). In 1916, the United States and Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada) signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Convention. Later on, in 1918, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) which implemented the Convention into law. With this passage, the federal government permanently protected migratory birds in the United States by making it illegal to take birds or nests without a permit, bait migratory game birds, transport live or dead birds without a permit, possess or sell birds without a permit, and generally made their protection very broad.
Later on, in 1936, Mexico signed a convention with the United States protecting migratory birds which further defined hunting seasons on migratory birds. Within this convention, it limited hunting seasons from September 1 – March 10. It also explicitly defined migratory game birds by their scientific families. Under this convention, hunters were only allowed hunting seasons on waterfowl, cranes rails, plovers, oystercatchers, stilts, avocets, sandpipers, phalaropes, pigeons, and doves.
So we still hunt waterfowl, cranes, rails, pigeons, and doves, but why not the other species? Well, many shorebirds were highly prized by sportsmen until the early 20th century. It is still common to find a plover or whimbrel decoy (or replicate) at a decoy show across the United States. However, under all the regulation listed above, it also is determined that all migratory game bird hunting seasons are closed until opened by the federal government. By this, it allowed the federal government (sometimes state governments did it much sooner) to close hunting seasons on any migratory game birds, if warranted. Due to the overharvest of shorebirds, especially on staging grounds, these species’ populations dropped considerably and public outcry over these species continued until hunting seasons were closed. Today, the only hunting seasons on shorebirds are the American woodcock and snipe.
As time has progressed, so have the intricate details of regulations on migratory game birds, and along with the rise of state and federal wildlife agencies in the early 20th century (such as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and United States Fish and Wildlife Service), our monitoring methods have improved and remain to the point where we track both population status and harvest for all migratory game birds now. Without biological information, hunting seasons are closed due to the uncertainty of hunting’s impacts.
Also, in some instances, there just wasn’t the interest. As an example, with common ground-doves, this species had a rather small geographic distribution in south Texas and Florida; and historically, it was never targeted by outdoorsmen or even by market hunters due to its size and, unlike its cousins – mourning and white-winged doves, non-gregarious nature.
TDHA Recommendation: Due to the popularity of hunting migratory game birds and the lack of knowledge or education of many hunters on the differences of certain game birds, many ground doves and Inca doves are still harvested each year by mistake. It is a common mistake…many hunters (in the heat of the moment) don’t look close enough at a small dove to see the copper coloring under its wings clarifying it as an Inca dove. To some it is simply a hatch year dove (yearling, 1st year) and they shoot thinking it is just a small dove. Does this sound familiar? It happens more than you think, yet the bottom line is…its illegal. To be safe, we encourage you to use extreme caution when hunting and do be on the lookout for small doves, odds are it is an Inca dove or a ground dove. Remember, if you’re ever in doubt…Don’t shoot!
By Shaun L. Oldenburger, Migratory Shore and Upland Game Bird Program Leader, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department