Dove hunts have long been a Southern tradition as a test of shooting skill and a chance to spend time with friends and family.
Doves are such common birds in agricultural areas that its easy to assume they are abundant everywhere, but this is not so. Doves are adapted to open country and are most abundant in the naturally open grasslands of the central prairie states.
Since the Southeast is naturally forested area, agricultural activities help the dove population by keeping land open.
In the Southeast, doves depend on the earliest stages of plant succession for most of their food needs. Doves are strict vegetarians and exclusively feed on seeds. Unlike quail, doves have short, weak legs and are not adapted for scratching. They prefer the bare land and weedy stages of plant succession. Agricultural practices are constantly setting back plant succession, thereby providing seeds of weeds and cultivated crops. This food supply helps make doves so abundant.
Doves prefer a wide range of seeds. They find food by sight or by seeing other birds feeding. They have a good memory and remember where choice food can be found. Choice foods include many species of wild and cultivated grasses as well as weeds.
Legumes are almost never choice food for doves, but they will eat peanuts, peas, beans and some other legumes. Doves do not tend to eat acorns, or seeds of clovers, chufas, partridge peas, vetches and other plants.
Doves feed on the seeds of many native plants as readily as they do the seeds of some cultivated crops. Native plants can be very productive and inexpensive to produce. Fertilizing native plants will increase seed production.
Inspect fields of native vegetation about 90 days prior to the dove season, and examine the seedlings carefully. If seedlings of the preferred species are abundant, the field can be left to grow. If the field is dominated by plants not preferred by doves, prepare the soil and plant a crop that will mature rapidly in the remaining time before the season opens.
The most popular crops to plant for doves in the Southeast are browntop millet, dove prove millet, sunflowers, sorghum and corn. These are all good for early and mid-season hunting.
Corn and sorghum are often preferred for late-season hunting. Consider planting four to six rows of tall crops such as corn or sorghum as a border along the edge of short crops.
Doves often feed in agricultural fields after crops are harvested. Harvested fields of corn, sorghum, soybeans, millet, sunflowers, peanuts, melons and cucumbers are attractive to doves. Be alert to such opportunities so you can organize dove hunts on short notice. If possible, plan harvests about two weeks before the date of desired hunting.
For more information on any program area, contact Houston County Extension at 478-987-2028 or drop by our office in the old courthouse, downtown Perry, 801 Main St. Office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Visit our website at www.caes.uga.edu/extension/houston for more news about your local Extension office.
Check out my blog at http://blog.extension.uga.edu/houston/
Houston County 4-H is offering many day camps and field trips this summer. Contact the extension office for more details.
Dates to remember
July 10: Sunbelt Expo Field Day, Moultrie
July 11: Master Goat Farmer registration deadline, Fulton County
July 14-18: 4-H Wilderness Challenge Camp
July 24: Monsanto Xtend Learning Site, Midville