Mourning doves are found mainly in crop fields, around farms, and in yards throughout Missouri. This bird mainly eats seeds and some insects.
Many landowners enjoy hunting mourning doves and consider their habitat needs when planting and harvesting crops.
When managing cover for mourning doves, consider the birds’ nesting and roosting needs. Doves are known to nest in many different habitat types, including on the ground. Their preferred nesting habitat in Missouri is edge habitat formed at the junction of woodland with crop, grassland, or uncultivated areas. Hedgerows and shelterbelts are frequently used for nesting, but doves are not very picky in their nest site selection.
Doves usually roost in densely branched trees. Common roost locations include:
- Brushy pastures
- Idle areas
Most management for mourning doves consists of planting and managing crops that will mature and attract doves in time for hunting season. Agricultural crops such as sunflowers, wheat, milo, corn, millet, and popcorn are popular choices among dove field managers.
Typically, crops are grown on a schedule that allows them time to mature and dry down by mid-August. Then, they are burned, mowed, rolled, or disked to knock down patches and scatter grain on the soil surface. Manipulation of foods to attract doves to shooting fields should be completed by the middle of August to give doves time to find and begin regular use of the field.
Caution: To avoid inadvertently baiting these migratory birds, which is illegal, check the current federal baiting laws for doves. For up-to-date federal dove-baiting regulations, visit U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services.
Choosing a dove field location
Dove fields should be 3 acres or larger to attract the birds and keep them using the field throughout the season.
Snags and perches
Doves often land on a bare limb or other perch before entering a field to feed. With this in mind, managers may choose a dove field location based on its proximity to a utility line or tall dead tree. If these features are not available, it may be worthwhile to girdle or use a herbicide to kill one or two unwanted tall trees next to the field. The presence of such a perch can increase dove use there.
Managing dove fields for food
Doves are ground feeders, so they require relatively bare ground for landing and feeding. Doves prefer open fields with lots of bare ground between crop plants over fields choked with dense stands of weeds. Therefore, dove field managers should commit to controlling weeds in their fields or dove use will likely diminish.
Black oil sunflowers are among the most popular grains planted for dove fields. Maturity time for most varieties is around 120 days, so sunflowers should be planted by mid-April in order to mature and dry in time for the Sept. 1 dove season opener.
Sunflowers produce lots more seed when they’re planted on wide spacing (18- to 30-foot rows) and not crowded. However, this provides good conditions for weed growth between the rows, so it is important that managers use herbicides or a row cultivator to reduce weed populations during the growing season. Many dove field managers use a pre-emergent herbicide before planting and post-emergent herbicides after planting to control weeds in their fields. You may need to fence sunflower fields to ensure good growth in areas with high deer populations.
A relatively easy but often-overlooked method for managing dove fields is to grow patches or strips of wheat, and then disk or burn them to scatter the grain. Wheat should be broadcast or drilled in the fall and allowed to grow and mature the following summer. Leave it standing until mid- to late-August, and then burn with a hot, fast-moving fire. The fire consumes the stalks and chaff, but the grain kernels, though charred, are not consumed.
One advantage of wheat fields is that the wheat will mature and canopy by early spring, greatly reducing weed pressure. Burning then places lots of seed on bare soil. Doves will readily feed at these fields.
Weed field management
Fallow fields and other areas with robust stands of seed-producing field weeds can be managed to provide dove-shooting opportunity. Annual weeds typically produce large volumes of seed, many of which are choice dove foods. Fields with an abundance of croton, ragweed, pigweed, wild millet, foxtail, and wild mustards can be mowed or disked to provide bare ground and scatter mature seed. Seeds from these plants are often overlooked as important dove foods.