The Other Dove

White-winged doves are slowly making their presence known in Colorado.
White-winged Dove

Just like the white-winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
I said ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh
Just like the white-winged dove
Sings a song, sounds like she’s singing
I said ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh

There are two extremely hard factors that dove hunters in Colorado have to deal with if they are setting out to harvest white-winged doves: The first is actually finding one of the doves in our state. The second, and much, much harder factor, is getting Stevie Nicks’ “The Edge of Seventeen” out of your head.

The historical record of whitewings in Colorado is sketchy at best. A 1979 report published in the Condor, from the Cooper Ornithological Society, stated that the Denver Museum of Nature and Science had one specimen of a male taken in Prowers County, Nov. 23, 1921. Additionally, there was a sight record on July 3, 1967, in Moffat County. Another was observed near Boulder on July 11, 1969. During the mourning dove hunting season in 1974, two white-winged doves were shot and an adult female was crippled. On Sept. 14, 1975, an immature female was obtained from a hunter in North Park who shot it near Rand, Jackson County. On May 3, 1977, one white-winged dove accompanied by two mourning doves was seen on the Pawnee National Grassland in Weld County. In other words, not a ton of whitewings in Colorado.

White-winged dove eye close up
Bright red surrounded by a patch of bare, blue skin

Hunters and casual observers might not have known what they were looking at, and possibly confused whitewings with mourning doves. White-winged doves are closer in size to mourning doves than the larger Eurasian collared-doves. In comparison with their mourning dove cousins, white-winged doves are somewhat larger, and more grayish in appearance. Where the mourning dove’s tail is fairly long and pointed, the white-winged dove’s tail is shorter, more rounded and tipped in white with black stripes on the underside. They have a larger head and beak than those of the mourning dove. The eye is bright red surrounded by a patch of bare, blue skin, and below, on its cheek, is a dark streak. While at rest, a NIKE swoosh-like white stripe highlights the leading edge of the folded wing. The stripe becomes a bright white bar that flashes as the bird takes flight, giving the dove its name. 

For many years, it wasn’t legal to hunt white-winged doves (as well as Eurasian collared-doves) in Colorado. That changed in 2005 when the Colorado Wildlife Commission revised the hunting regulations so hunters could harvest all three dove species in Colorado. 

“I think white-winged dove harvest in Colorado is currently rare and almost entirely incidental — a few hunters happen to harvest a whitewing while mourning dove hunting,” said Jim Gammonley, an avian research leader for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Since 2005, the federal harvest estimates for white-winged doves in Colorado have averaged about 3,066 per year. This compares to about 198,371 mourning doves harvested yearly in Colorado.”

So far, there doesn’t seem to be a reliable hunting area for whitewings. “Most whitewings seem to stick pretty close to towns, where they are not available for hunting,” said Gammonley. “ECDs [Eurasian collared-doves] are also often found in and near towns or farms with outbuildings and tree rows for them to shelter in. Which means that the best bet for finding and harvesting all three species is on the edge of towns where hunting is permitted.” So hunters looking for a dove Grand Slam should search out legal hunting areas that fit the description and do some scouting for whitewings. “As white-winged dove populations continue to grow, they may become more reliably found in areas that are open to hunting,” added Gammonley.

Small game & waterfowl brochure

Mourning doves and whitewings are included in an aggregate daily bag limit. ECDs have no bag limit if they are fully feathered (i.e., could easily be identified), but if not fully feathered, they are included in the aggregate daily bag for doves. From 2005–2010, the season dates were the same for all three species, but that changed in 2010 when Colorado adjusted the regulations to allow the Eurasian collared-dove season to be year-round, with no bag or possession limit (harvested ECDs need to be fully feathered).

And for the hunter who is lucky enough to harvest all three, all I can say is, “ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh.” 

Wayne D. Lewis is the editor and art director of Colorado Outdoors magazine.

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