Hikers in the public hunting and fishing land west of Moses Lake may stumble upon something interesting scattered about the shrubsteppe this time of year: caged doves.
According to wildlife biologist Sean Dougherty, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife captures around 250 mourning doves a year in that area, collecting data to inform hunting management throughout the Pacific Flyway.
Mourning doves are slender-tailed, small-headed, grayish-tan birds common across North America. They fly fast and straight, perch on fences and power lines and forage for seeds on the ground.
Mourning doves are the most commonly hunted species in North America, and Grant County is typically the top dove harvesting county in Washington. This is likely because of the amount of open hunting grounds compared to other places, Dougherty said.
As members of the Pacific Flyway Council — an administrative body that forges cooperation among public wildlife agencies to protect and conserve migratory birds that inhabit western North America — the state wildlife department bands mourning doves within the flyway to measure annual reproduction, hunter harvest and survival, Dougherty said.
In Washington, the mourning dove hunting season goes from Sept. 1 to Oct. 30, with a daily bag limit of 15 birds.
If a hunter shoots a banded bird, they are strongly encouraged to report it via the contact information on the band, Dougherty said, to ensure the data is most accurate. Harvest information for the whole season is collected when the hunter purchases a Migratory Bird Permit.
The data collection is pretty simple, he said. If the department bands 100 birds and 10 birds are reported, the assumption is that 10% of the population has been hunted in the given year. If the total harvest was 10,000 birds, that would mean there were approximately 100,000 birds in the area prior to hunting season.
Sex and age is determined similarly, he said. Of those 100 banded birds, biologists keep track of how many are adult males, adult females or hatch-year birds before sex can be determined. This is used to note how much of each demographic makes up the population each year.
If weather conditions are stable, the doves found during scouting trips should be around during hunting season, he said. Hunters may improve their success by securing access to wheat fields for morning hunts.
In the evening, hunters can find success in wheat fields or traditional roosting areas, such as trees near water, he said.
Areas on the north and west sides of Potholes Reservoir, the east side of Winchester Lake and throughout the Desert Unit of the Columbia Basin Wildlife Area also make good dove hunting spots.