The Eared Dove (Zenaida auriculata), is a New World tropical dove. It is a resident breeder throughout South America from Colombia to southern Argentina and Chile, and on the offshore islands from the Grenadines southwards. It may be a relatively recent colonist of Tobago and Trinidad. It appears to be partially migratory, but details are little known, although migration may be driven by food supplies.
The Eared Dove is 9.5 inches long with a long wedge-shaped tail, and weighs normally about 4 ounces. Adult males have mainly olive-brown upper plumage, with black spots on the wings. The head has a gray crown, black line behind the eye, and the blue-black on the lower ear coverts. These black markings give the species its English and specific name. The underparts are vinous, and the tail is tipped with cinnamon. The bill is black and the legs dark red. The female is duller than the male, and juveniles are grayish-brown, very dull, with pale barring. The species’ call is a deep soft oo-ah-oo.
The Eared Dove is common to abundant in savannahs and other open areas, including cultivation, and it readily adapts to human habitation, being seen on wires and telephone posts near towns in Trinidad and Venezuela, almost in all public spaces of large urban areas such as BogotÃ¡, Colombia and feeding near beach resorts in Tobago. Eared Doves feed mainly on seed taken from the ground, but will take other items such as soaked bread. They can be agricultural pests. This is a gregarious bird when not feeding, and forms flocks especially at migration time or at communal roosts.
Its flight is high, fast and direct, with the regular beats and an occasional sharp flick of the wings which are characteristic of pigeons in general. It also has a breeding display with a steep climb and semi-circular glide down to its original perch. It builds a small stick nest several meters up in a tree and lays two white eggs. These hatch in 12″“14 days with another 9 days to fledging. There appears to be no fixed breeding season in most of their range, and provided with plentiful food and habitat birds will breed almost continuously.
Eared Doves provide the last big-bag shooting experience in the world. There are reckoned to be more than 23 million of these doves in the fields around CÃ³rdoba in northern Argentina and it is not unknown for a single gun to shoot 1000 birds in a day.
The scale of this wing-shooting recalls the numbers of Passenger Pigeons taken by North American gunners in the 1800s. That hunting pressure brought the Passenger Pigeon to rapid extinction, but the Eared dove seems to be more resilient. Eared Dove populations in Argentina and Bolivia sometimes “darken the skies”. Thus, it seems that populations on the sporting estates of Argentina are holding their own, with the birds breeding four times a year and thriving on the vast areas of grain, some grown for their benefit, most of it on commercial farms which are happy to support the dove shooting.
The Eared Doves around CÃ³rdoba do not migrate, and the enormous flocks are described as flying constantly between their roosting woods and the open fields.