Mourning dove (Zenaida macroura) are widely distributed members of the Columbidae dove family. Current populations in North America are estimated at roughly 350 million birds.
Mourning doves are relatively small, weighing up to 6 ounces in the wild, with overall lengths and wingspans up to 17-18 inches. Mourning doves feed primarily on seeds found on the ground, and are capable of drinking brackish water that is otherwise non-potable to other species.
Mourning doves are especially fecund, capable of laying eggs in clutches of one to three as many as two to six batches per breeding season.
Mourning doves can achieve speeds up to 45 miles per hour and possess great maneuverability, making them a challenging game to hunt. Mourning doves are one of the most widely hunted game species in North America, with some 20 million birds taken annually.
Other forms of mortality to mourning doves include native and feral animal predation, and diseases like trichomoniasis that spreads through the use of birdbaths and bird feeders in urban and suburban settings. Mourning doves are also potential vectors for West Nile Virus and avian influenza.
Mourning doves are regulated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918), where hunting seasons and bag limits are set in the various states where dove hunting is permitted under the oversight and consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Environmental activists and researchers have widely promoted lead ammunition bans for hunting migratory upland game, claiming that mourning doves routinely mistake lead shot for seed. Mourning dove hunting, however, tends to occur in restricted or fixed locations within small areas that are very attractive to this species (i.e. cultivated fields, fence-rows, water sources), and may not be representative of the manner in which other upland game species are hunted.
While some studies claim that there is evidence that mourning doves ingest spent lead shot believing it to be a food source, it was determined that although large amounts of shot were deposited in localized hunting areas, only a very small proportion of that shot may actually be available to feeding doves. Additionally, lead ingestion studies claiming that lead shot can cause poisoning in doves have been proven to be flawed because the methodology of unnatural force feeding of the birds does not replicate natural feeding conditions in the wild. Hunt for Truth is reviewing the numerous studies with claims related to the ingestion of lead ammunition for objective evidence of lead poisoning in mourning doves.