Peace? Or Pest?
- January 31st, 2012
- in Yachting
Dove of Peace? Or Pest?
We all love birds. We love their colours and their songs. We long for the freedom of flying. So, it is hard to think of birds in a negative light. Oh, sure, city pigeons are a nuisance, and we’re not very fond of roosters that burst into full song at 4 am. But, those are exceptions. When we think of pests, or invasive animals, birds usually do not come to mind. Unfortunately, there is one bird, a newcomer to the Virgin Islands, that has the makings of a real pest in the future.
That bird is the Eurasian collared dove, or Streptopelia decaocto, as it is scientifically known. It is a fairly attractive bird with a pinkish-grey hue and a distinctive dark stripe, the collar, on the back of its neck. It’s a bit smaller than our domestic pigeon and about the same size as the native Zenaida dove. They are actually a delight to look at, and their mournful coos can be soothing.
As the name implies, it is originally from Asia and Europe, but it has spread to many parts of the world. In the 1970s, a few doves were released into the wild in the Bahamas. Within a couple of decades, they expanded to the US and south into the Caribbean. They are well established on many islands and first arrived in the Virgins in the mid-1990s. In 2009, a small flock was spotted at the Bitter End Yacht Club on Virgin Gorda and began breeding right away. No one knows for sure where they came from, but St Martin or Guadeloupe are likely sources.
So, what’s the problem? Why are they considered invasive, and could they really be so bad? Well, the truth is, we don’t know for sure. We do know that our island ecosystems are very fragile. It doesn’t take much to upset the balance, and any new arrival, especially one that is aggressive and a prolific breeder, should be cause for worry. Collared doves certainly fit the bill.
Contrary to the image of the white dove on Christmas cards with the “Peace on Earth” message, doves are anything but peaceful. Most are highly aggressive to their own kind and usually to smaller birds as well. In fact, hawks and eagles are more peaceful than pigeons and doves. That innate behavior is at the root of our concern. These doves generally associate with human habitations and will crowd out our native birds either by competing with them for food and nest sites, or simply by attacking and driving them away. Their preferred diet of seeds and plant matter make them well adapted to human environments. It is also why they can become pests.
The main worry we have is that they will displace some of our native birds with unknown consequences to the environment. There are plenty of examples of seemingly innocuous animals creating havoc and serious problems for humans. Besides damaging agricultural crops, the doves can spread diseases through their nests and roosts. There are significant health issues associated with pigeon roosts in cities where their wastes can foul houses and sidewalks or contaminate drinking water. Since they like sitting on roofs and nesting in gutters, imagine what will end up in your cistern.
One thing seems certain: The doves are probably here to stay. The small flock from the Bitter End has expanded throughout North Sound and much of Virgin Gorda. Individuals have been spotted at Spanish Town and even on Tortola. It won’t be long before they will be a common sight on all the Virgin Islands. While they are very likely to become a nuisance in the future, hopefully they will not become a health hazard. Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure.
While the Eurasian collared dove was not intentionally released in the Virgin Islands, they are here because of human behavior. People accidently or deliberately released them into the environment somewhere. Then, just like the genie in the bottle, you can’t undo what you did. Humans must understand that moving plants and animals around the world and releasing them is a very bad thing. All of us will suffer for it.
The Virgin Islands are spectacular, and we have a unique ecosystem full of beautiful birds. Let’s enjoy and protect what we have. If you really want some exotic doves, keep them in an aviary, or better yet, visit them where they are native.