A pair of doves flutters across the snowy street in front of my car to perch in a leafless tree towering above the sidewalk. On this frigid February morning the thermometer registers 4 degrees (F).
Montana’s native doves, Mourning Doves, have all flown south for the winter. So what’s a pair of doves doing in Red Lodge, on the flank of the Beartooth Mountains, at this time of year?
These aren’t Mourning Doves. Rather, they’re Eurasian Collard-doves, an exotic species that has successfully colonized my home state like house sparrows and starlings. First officially sighted in Montana in 1997, by 2003 the statewide Christmas bird count recorded nearly 700 collared doves.
My first sighting was sometime in the early 2000s in Billings. Now I see these plucky interlopers on a regular basis, no matter where my travels take me in the Treasure State. So far, the verdict is out concerning what impacts Eurasian Collared-doves might have on endemic species such as Mourning Doves. Some biologists feel the two birds occupy slightly different niches in habitat and won’t ultimately affect one another. Others believe the larger collared doves might displace Mourning Doves from feeding areas and nesting sites as their population continues to expand.
Out here, at least three types of organisms receive some benefit from these non-natives. Marauding housecats and predatory birds, such as Cooper’s Hawks, have an additional source of prey in the winter months. In Montana, human hunters can take Eurasian Collared-doves at any time of the year, since they carry no protected status as non-natives.
I’m not sure what to make of these newcomers. What do you think?