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Native versus Exotic

Fish & Wildlife

Fri May 10 11:22:00 MDT 2013

By Bruce Auchly
FWP Region 4 Information Officer

What looks a bit like a pigeon, walks like a pigeon, but is not a pigeon?

How about the Eurasian collared dove.

Bird watchers are aflutter about this exotic bird, this chunky relative of our native mourning dove that has spread in recent decades across North America.

The Eurasian dove is native to – you guessed it – Eurasia, that continent of Europe and Asia we learned about in 6th grade.

With a little practice the collared dove is easy to identify. Though it looks similar to the mourning dove, it is larger, has a black half-collar on the back of its neck and sports a broad tail squared at the tip. The mourning dove’s tail is pointed.

A few collared doves were brought to the Bahamas in the 1970s, escaped and made their way to Florida by the 1980s. They arrived in Montana in the last few years. So far their impact is not clear.

Native versus exotic. Native is good, exotic is bad. Right?

Mourning dove good; Eurasian dove bad. If it were only that easy.

In the plant world exotic can mean a weed such as spotted knapweed. Bad.

Or exotic can mean a lilac bush in the yard that blooms beautifully each spring. Oops, good.

And don’t even think about what’s exotic in the vegetable garden because probably everything is.

With fish and wildlife exotic can bring a host of problems. The best known bird examples are starlings, English house sparrows and pigeons. None of which are native to this continent; all were introduced and can push out native bird species.

So, exotic birds are bad.

Yet, pheasants are not native; neither are Hungarian partridge. Ask any upland bird hunter if those species are good or bad. Hint: They’re not bad.

In the fish world, it’s even more mixed up. Brown trout, smallmouth bass and, probably, walleye, are all introduced to Montana, all exotic. Yet all rated as good by most anglers.

Of course if you are looking for a universal underwater villain there’s always the carp family, though only in North America.

In Asia and Europe the common carp is considered a popular game fish, even a delicacy. It came to this country in the 1870s at the request of anglers and sportsmen.

Then within 25 years, tastes changed and people decided they didn’t like carp after all.

Today, the common carp still has a few fans, including fly fishermen. Imagine trying to haul in a 10-to 20-pound fighting fish on a fly line and gossamer thin leader. Now that’s a fight.

Several other species of Asian carp, however, have no fans. The bighead and silver carp have invaded the Mississippi River drainage and are threatening fish populations in the Great Lakes and the Missouri River drainage, too.

Asian carp are a problem because like all exotics they eat the food supplies of the natives, have no natural predators, and multiply quickly.

Which brings us back to questions that arise from Eurasian collared doves. Like what harm will they cause native species such as their mourning dove cousins? No one knows so far.

But get this; because collared doves are exotic there are no regulations about hunting them. That means they can be hunted year round. And if collared doves are as tasty as their cousins, the mourning dove, which is regulated, well… Good.