by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Ontario Opens Season on Mourning Doves, Quietly... Very, Very Quietly
Rachel Carson, inspirational writer, biologist, and ecologist, said, “We cannot have peace among men whose hearts delight in killing any living creature. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing, we set back the progress of humanity.” Agreed—but, such men tend to be disproportionately in charge of deciding such things, and therein lies a very big problem for wildlife.
Here in Ontario, there was an open hunting season for mourning doves in 1955. People were absolutely outraged, so it was closed, never to be considered again—until, quietly, with a minimum of public awareness, this year, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened a hunting season in southwestern Ontario. It is the 99th anniversary since the only other native species of dove, the passenger pigeon, went extinct (notwithstanding it had been far more abundant than mourning doves).
Back in 1955, most mourning doves migrated out of Ontario each fall, where they were then shot, by the millions, in various U.S. states. Since there was “selection” against migrating birds, the few that wintered in Ontario may have had, on average, better survival potential. (Although, in those days, such birds often had toes frozen off.) Decade by decade, several factors undoubtedly contributed to changes in migratory behavior: non-migrant survival, warming winter temperatures, increased dependence on mechanical harvesting that left plenty of waste grain for the birds to eat, the shift to absentee farming for tax purposes while speculators waited for land values to ripen, plus the popularity of doves with people who increasingly put out winter bird feeders in their gardens. Now, the mourning dove is a common winter bird here in southern Ontario. Ontario’s hunters can’t stand that… Why should Americans (and a few hunters in British Columbia, the only other Canadian province where mourning doves are hunted) have all the fun of killing these small, gentle birds?
Why can’t Ontarians kill doves, too? Because most Ontarians would be appalled at the thought. No matter. As one proponent of the hunt put it, “Because we have so many [doves], it’s a good opportunity for [young hunters] to get out and shoot and practice their skills.” Right… We need more people shooting guns… This, in the same week as the mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., followed by the 3-year-old and a dozen others shot in Chicago (not counting twice as many shot the same weekend in separate “incidents”)… All as we move toward the first anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook. As I write, people are being shot in a Nairobi, Kenya shopping mall for what, I can only assume, the shooters believe are good reasons. Society very rightly condemns such totally senseless acts of terror, or horror—and nothing, no cause, justifies any of it in any way. And, what of killing a dove? Is it really only justified because their fast flying makes them “sporting,” while they are tame and common enough to easily find?
Fellow bird artist and colleague, Julie Zickefoose, who lives in neighboring Ohio, wrote an excellent blog (http://www.juliezickefoose.com/writing/dove.php) in which she made the point, “Since the dove’s drumstick is less than an inch long, the breast meat is all that’s used. Each breast fillet is about as long as my thumb, and weighs one ounce or less before cooking.” She compared it to half of a hot-dog wiener.
We Ontarians must use steel, not lead, bullets, which could enhance wounding, but reduce toxicity. Or, even better; not shooting at all would eliminate both concerns.
Hunters are in decline, and that means the funding for “wildlife managers” is imperiled—and, as I said, they are disproportionately found in government wildlife agencies. And so, the push is on to recruit more people to part company with the majority of us who enjoy shooting nothing more lethal than a camera. There has been a weak attempt to try a favored tactic of demonizing their victims: too many doves can result in disease, they say (though there is no proof that they do, of course, or that it justifies killing healthy animals, be they doves, robins, or cardinals) and they claim that doves may spread weed seeds around (as do sparrows and larks, buntings and bobolinks… Who is next?)—but , again, with no proof or even likelihood that this is really an issue. It’s all quite silly, but cruelly lethal to a species that the vast majority of us simply enjoy.
We Ontarians—now that we know—will fight back, but we can use the help of our American neighbors. A brief note to the Prime Minister of Canada couldn’t hurt, and might help: The Honorable Stephen Harper, Office of the Prime Minister, 80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2, Phone: 1-800-622- 6232, TTY: 1-800-465-7735, Fax: 613-941-6900, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell him, politely and in your own words, not to kill the mourning doves. Let them continue to have Ontario as a place of refuge. Ontario has room for them and we want to welcome them with bird seed, not bird shot.