Talkin' Outdoors

Every April, I head out for southwest Texas for one of my favorite activities. My destination is the Russell Ranch near Menard where I’ll spend a few days hunting Rio Grande turkeys.

I have never seen a Rio here in Louisiana. They don’t live here; our habitat only supports our Eastern sub-species. I wouldn’t have been too surprised last week, though, to see a Rio crossing a road. Why? Hurricanes tend to cause strange things to happen in the bird world.

My first encounter with a displaced bird came in October of 1985 as Hurricane Juan was moving inland off our coast. I identified the first Vermilion flycatcher I had ever seen as it sat on a branch just outside my office window in Ruston.

These beautiful birds arrayed in brilliant crimson are common on Russell Ranch when I’m hunting turkeys in Texas. My dog-eared copy of Birds of North America has this to say about Vermilion flycatchers…”Common near streams in the arid Southwest.” Ruston is not in the arid Southwest. We’re in the piney woods of north Louisiana. We only get the rare glimpse of such birds when cataclysmic storms displace them.

I saw another displaced bird last week on a north Louisiana dove hunt. I watched a couple of doves wing their way past two other hunters, Michael and John. I noticed immediately that one of the birds had a flight pattern different from the other. Wing beats were more like that of a common pigeon than a dove.

John shot the dove and reported later he was a bit concerned he had shot a song bird. “The white streak on the wing made me think I had made a mistake and shot a mockingbird,” he said.

Upon examination, the three of us agreed this bird was obviously a dove but we had never seen one with such different markings. I suggested this bird was possibly a white winged dove although I’d never seen one. Michael whipped out his cell phone, consulted our friend, Google, for a photo of a white winged dove and, yes, that’s what John had shot.

White winged doves, along with mourning doves, are legal to hunt in Louisiana although I’m betting that very few white wings actually end up in hunters’ bags. I did get a report from a hunter who was on a field east of Monroe opening day and he reported bagging several white wings. He had the same question I had…”I wonder if the hurricane pushed them up here?”

That’s a distinct possibility. However, upon consulting Wikipedia, I found that although the native range for white wings extends from the southwestern US through Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, the range has expanded, in recent years throughout Texas and into Oklahoma and, yes, Louisiana.

We already have a subspecies of dove that has expanded throughout our area. You wonder what kind of dove you’re looking at when you see a Eurasian Collared Dove, a bird larger than our native mourning dove, with a lighter gray color, a black ring around the neck and a different call. These birds are legal to hunt during season and there is no limit, provided the head and one feathered wing remain attached to the body.

Another interesting little dove, the Inca dove, shows up at my feeder periodically. These birds, not legal to hunt, are smaller and at first glance the bird appears to be covered in scales. Closer examination reveals an unusual feather pattern that looks like, but are not, scales.

We pray this doesn’t happen but should Irma bombard our coast or that of Texas, be on the lookout for strange birds that, much like storm displaced human refugees, seek shelter in our part of the world.