Most Canadians know mourning doves by their plaintive cry, but some of us are getting familiar with their taste.
The Canadian Wildlife Service, a division of Environment Canada, has given the green light to hunting the pigeon-sized birds in central and southern Ontario. It is the first time since a brief period during the 1950s that it has been legal to shoot them for sport in Canada's largest province.
Dawn Sucee, a fish and wildlife biologist Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said she is both a birder and a naturalist, but she supports hunting mourning doves, which are abundant and prolific – some raise six broods in a year.
"They make excellent table fare. You can grill them, broil them, roast them," Ms. Sucee said. And, she added, they are an excellent choice for Canadians who, out of concern for the environment or a desire to support the local economy, choose to eat food grown close to home.
Many naturalists and birders say they are aghast at the move, and Ms. Sucee admits she has received a lot of calls from people who want the hunt stopped.
"The federal government has been listening to the hunters who have been lobbying for it, and they haven't adequately consulted the rest of us," said Anne Bell, the director of conservation and education at Ontario Nature, an organization that represents naturalists.
Mourning doves "are a common bird that people love," Ms. Bell said. "They come to bird feeders. They are so beautiful. They are so gentle. And I don't think it is in the public interest to open up a hunt."
In the United States, where up to 20 million are killed every year, they are the top bird targeted by sportsmen. They have been legal game in British Columbia for decades – although not many people hunt them there.
Under the new rules in Ontario, hunters who have the appropriate stamp and permit may bag up to 15 mourning doves a day and may possess up to 45 carcasses at a time.
That does not mean city dwellers in places like Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa will be able to shoot the birds that are coo-ooo-ooo-ing in their backyards – municipal bylaws prevent that sort of thing.
But south of North Bay, on the farms, grasslands and lightly wooded areas that are the mourning dove's favourite rural habitats, open season began this month and goes until mid-November.
Jason Weir, a conservation and ecology expert at the University of Toronto, said he is a vegan and has never eaten a bird in his life. But, as long as the Canadian Wildlife Service says their numbers are sufficient and they are killed in a controlled manner, he said he would find a mourning-dove hunt "acceptable."
Ms. Sucee said she can sympathize with the opponents of a hunt.
"I can understand the birders and the vegetarians or vegans getting upset just because they don't like the killing of anything," she said. "But, if you like meat, you know where [the mourning dove has] come from. It lived out its natural life in its natural habitat and you harvested it."
Scott Petrie, the executive director of Long Point Waterfowl in southwestern Ontario and an adjunct professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Western Ontario, says hunting mourning doves is a great way to spend time with his children.
"I left my house at 4:30 [p.m.] one day with my son, drove 15 minutes, found a field, asked permission, set up, and he had shot four doves within an hour of leaving our house," Dr. Petrie said.
As to the argument that they are not large enough to justify hunting them, he said, "We eat lots of things that are small that are delicacies. For me, it comes down to the fact that they are the most abundant game bird in North America and they are delicious."