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Water Sources Can Be Managed to Benefit Mourning Dove

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Posted May 31, 2004

Mourning dove must drink water on a regular basis. During mild weather, dove do not have to drink every day, but they do not live longer than seven to 11 days without water. Hot temperatures and reproductive activities increase their water needs and decrease the amount of time they can live without water.

Dove successfully live in arid areas because they can travel considerable distances, up to 7.6 miles, to water. Nevertheless, they generally travel less than two miles to water. They typically drink once or twice per day. Although dove may use water any time during daylight hours, peaks in water consumption typically occur during morning and late evening. Dove can drink their daily water needs in less than a minute, but usually linger around a water source for a longer period of time.

Mourning dove can drink only fresh and mildly saline water. They cannot use seawater or hyper-saline water sources without ill effects. The maximum sodium chloride concentrations that dove can drink is about 25 percent the salinity of seawater.

Mourning dove seem to prefer using water sources that are relatively free of vegetation near the waters edge. Grazing management practices that concentrate livestock at water sources probably benefit dove by improving watering sites.

Although many dove fly straight to water, they seem to prefer flying to a perch and investigating the area before flying down to the water for a drink. Snags, trees, utility wires and fences are used as perches near water sources.

Dove do not seem to care whether water is clear or muddy and readily use several water sources, such as lakes, playas, ponds, springs, puddles, streams, low-profile water troughs, overflow pools and guzzlers.

Mourning dove abundance can probably be enhanced by establishing additional permanent water sources where existing sources are farther than four miles apart. In the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma and Texas, there are probably not many areas where the absence of water limits dove abundance, so providing additional water in these areas probably would not increase dove numbers. However, where surface freshwater is scarce, such as the western portions of Oklahoma and Texas, local dove numbers might be enhanced by providing freshwater.

When constructing a new water source for dove, it is best that the water be at ground level and at least one location along the edge of the water lacks vegetation. Ideally, there would be little or no vegetation within ten yards of the drinking location to minimize potential for ambush by mammalian predators. The simplest way to reduce vegetation around a water source is to concentrate livestock at the location. When grazing is not a good option, a concrete pad can be constructed to provide a vegetation-free zone.

When a well, waterline or water storage facility is available, water can be piped to a ground-level water trough for dove. Existing open-top water troughs or storage tanks can be modified to benefit mourning dove by installing a floating platform or ramp that allows birds to drink and escape the water should they fall in.

When a well, waterline or water storage facility is not available, a man-made watershed pond is probably the most practical means to create a dove water source where soils and rainfall are adequate. A dove watering pond does not need to be very large; it just needs to have adequate maximum depth to provide a dependable water source. Six feet on the eastern side of the Noble Research Institutes service area to ten feet on the western side are probably the shallowest maximum depths for dependable water where ponds do not seep. It is desirable that a pond have greater maximum depth than these minimums to allow for siltation and extreme droughts.

A pond needs to have adequate watershed to fill it when normal rains occur. For each acre-foot of water volume in a pond, a pond in the eastern portion of the Noble Research Institutes service area should have at least five acres of watershed, whereas a pond in the western portion should have at 20 acres of watershed. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a good source of pond design information for any particular location. The NRCS can help determine the suitability of soils for a watershed pond, provide the most appropriate maximum depth for dependable water and match pond volume to watershed size.

Where soils are too porous to hold water, a guzzler can be constructed. A guzzler has an apron of non-porous material to collect water and direct it to a storage tank. Most of the tank, sometimes the entire tank, is covered to minimize evaporation and prevent wildlife from drowning. Water is made accessible to dove along one edge of the tank or it is piped to a separate watering trough.

Since mourning dove must drink water, hunting at water sources can be productive. Water sources located near dove feeding areas and between roost sites and feeding areas probably attract the most dove. Hunting is generally most successful at water sources during hot, droughty periods when dove must drink more frequently and most temporary water sources are dry.

To learn more about mourning dove and its management, attend the August 12-13, 2004, Dove Symposium at Wichita Falls, Texas, or purchase a copy of the symposium proceedings. Contact Dr. Dale Rollins at (325) 653-4576 or d-rollins@tamu.edu for more information about the symposium or proceedings.

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