By Jim Cox, originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of Quail Call.
It’s not much of a stretch to suggest that the Quail Call and all the other great information that Tall Timbers provides on quail management, has strong links to another bird that is as plump and fast flying as quail, and also fares well on quail-managed properties. Herbert Stoddard, the founder of Tall Timbers and the wildlife management profession, arrived in Florida in the 1890s with a family hoping to improve their condition by making a living on their farm growing citrus.
Then just six years old, Stoddard spent countless hours exploring the lakes and pine forests surrounding his home just east of Orlando. He describes the surroundings in idyllic terms, but one of the most memorable moments he recounted in his memoirs is the discovery of the nest of a Common Ground-dove.
“The discovery launched me on my career as a student of birds,” he says. “How that little creature ever managed to hatch her eggs and rear her young is a mystery to me, for I made many visits to the spot, each time disturbing her in her duties.” Now more than 100 years after the spark that grounddove ignited, we are still working on the many questions that Stoddard had, most of which led to the establishment of Tall Timbers Research Station in 1958.
The Common Ground-dove is the smallest dove in North America and weighs in at about ¼ the weight of a typical bobwhite quail. Its repetitive “woot, woot” calls are a common feature on quail properties and evoke the colloquial names of “moaning dove” or “tobacco dove” given the bird’s habit of occurring near agricultural fields. Althought the Common Ground-dove thrives in the presence of quail management, this little bird has not been faring well across most of its range.
Annual roadside bird counts conducted in May and June suggest we have about a quarter of the ground-doves we had 50 years ago. Losses are especially high in Florida, which, along with Texas, supports some of the largest populations anywhere. Although still common, there are many questions about why the losses have occurred and whether the populations that remain are stable. A recent comprehensive evaluation concluded that major studies of the dove are few and incomplete.
Given the many unknowns, Tall Timbers began banding the scores of ground-doves that are incidentally captured each year as part of quail research. Between Tall Timbers and Livingston Place, over 370 individuals have been banded since the Fall of 2020. By simply banding the doves captured and logging individuals when they are recaptured, we are starting to put together some of the first information available on survival, movements, and population stability for this species.
The project is spearheaded by Destinee Story, who got her start through a quail internship at Tall Timbers in 2019, and is now enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Georgia. “I went into the ground-dove project only expecting the unexpected,” she says, “and that is exactly what we’ve been learning.” Destinee has led the banding initiative from the start and has also been tracking a handful of ground-doves on Livingston Place using radio telemetry.
“We’ve recorded huge movements for tagged doves,” she notes, “including one individual that moved about a mile over an 8-hour period. All the published information says doves are sedentary, but we’re find many inconsistencies.”
“They also use bottomland areas quite often, such as wetlands and drains, even though they are believed to be an upland obligate species,” she adds.
Ground doves and quail have subtly different needs, but the area of overlap is much greater than the differences and helps to support large dove populations on quail-managed properties. Quail management often has the misguided reputation as “single-species” management. The reality is, bobwhite management is conducive to many other game and non-game species, including the Common Ground-dove. Ensuring this message is spread far and wide is critically important to the future of the bobwhite, as well as the many others species that thrive alongside.
Thanks to quail management, the future looks safe for the dove. We are grateful to the landowners and land managers who have helped to secure this future and, much like Stoddard, look forward to continued “ground-breaking” research.