Kenneth G. Johnson, Wildlife Biologist

On this morning, the alarm clock sounded louder than usual as the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries biologist rolled from his bed and began dressing. With coffee made and a cup to go, he headed for his vehicle. It is 4:30 a.m. and he has only 45 minutes to reach the starting point of his Dove Coo Call Count route. Upon arriving, he will record the temperature, cloud cover, and wind velocity. Finished with the pre-count records, he listens to the familiar sounds which introduce the breaking day.

It is now 5:15 a.m. and time to start the count. He listens more intently now. Suddenly, he hears the notes he is seeking ?the clear, soft ?ooah, coo, coo, coo?of a mourning dove. At the end of three minutes, he records the number of doves he has heard and proceeds one mile to the next stop. There he repeats the procedure. Twenty stops, one mile apart, are made on each route, adhering to a strict time schedule which starts 30 minutes before official sunrise.

This routine is typical for the 28 Dove Coo Call-Count routes conducted concurrently by wildlife biologists from the Division of Wildlife & Freshwater Fisheries between May 20 and May 31. More than 1,000 similar routes are run across the United States during the same period. The original routes were randomly selected along lightly traveled roads. The data gathered along these routes form the basis for dove hunting regulations.

Research has demonstrated the feasibility of using the numbers of doves heard as an index to breeding population levels. In 1953, the first nationwide call count survey was conducted in 41 of the 48 contiguous United States. By 1959, all 48 contiguous states were represented in the survey.

The morning dove coo is common during spring and summer and is an integral part of breeding and nesting activity. The males coo to attract females and to let other male doves know that they have laid claim to a territory. The females rarely coo, but occasionally give a weak imitation of the melodious male call.

The information gathered during the Coo Call Count is designed to detect major changes in the breeding population of doves. The dove population is not constant and hunting regulations, seasons, and bag limits can directly affect the number of doves harvested. Because the mourning dove is a migratory bird, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service establishes frameworks for hunting of this species. Should the composite dove call count data in the United States indicate that changes are needed in seasons and regulations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will establish new season framework dates and/or bag limits. Each state sets its own season within this framework. A state can set regulations which are more restrictive, but not more liberal than the federal guidelines.

The sun is up by almost an hour and a half as the final data are recorded at the last stop. A sense of gratification, being part of the action, is experienced by the biologist as he moves on to take care of other job responsibilities. So, if you happen to be out early one morning during the latter part of May and you see an individual standing by his vehicle with a clipboard in hand, listening intently, don't stop; just ride on. He is only counting doves cooing.