Whether you're a hunter or a watcher of birds, you're no doubt aware that some birds make a tasty meal for the table. In this column I'll highlight four game birds that can be hunted in the woods and fields of southern Illinois, from small doves to giant turkeys. Other species that may be hunted include ducks, geese, Virginia Rail, American Woodcock, and American Crow.
Two of the U.S.'s nine species of doves are found here -- Mourning Dove (12") and Eurasian Collared-Dove (13"). The Mourning Dove is a common breeder in cities and yards and weighs only 4 ounces; it is a popular target during the fall (September to mid-November) and late December hunting seasons. As kids we'd imitate their mournful cooing by blowing into our cupped hands. The Eurasian Collared-Dove is larger at 7 ounces, but uncommon in southern Illinois. Farms and silos with lots of spilled grain tend to attract these sandy-colored doves with a black crescent on their necks.
Northern Bobwhite (10") are small quail that spend most of their time running along the ground, although they are quite capable of flight. They are handsomely marked with rufous, black, and white patterns on their face and breast. Especially in spring and early summer, they give themselves away with their "bobwhite" call. These birds prefer hedgerows and weedy areas, and have suffered from habitat loss throughout their range. In many places they can no longer be found. They weigh 6 ounces; their season is November and December. You can hear and see bobwhites in open areas like Pyramid State Recreation Area and Crab Orchard NWR.
The Wild Turkey (46") needs little introduction, with its small bluish head, huge greenish-brown body, and rufous-barred tail. They were once extirpated in Illinois, and when I was young it was a rare treat to see or hear one -- now they are abundant in our woods, and their gobbling is a sure sign of spring. The hunting season is in April and again in the fall. It's a large bird, and males can reach 30 lbs. If you've never heard one in the wild, try the road to Pomona Natural Bridge on an April morning.
Ring-necked Pheasant (21," 40 oz.) is a striking chicken-like bird with a red face, blue neck, white collar, and rufous body. These birds were successfully introduced into the U.S. grasslands from China in the late 1800s and have done very well. In southern Illinois they are most common in Wayne Fitzgerald Park and Pyramid State Recreation Area. Restricted hunts take place in the fall.
Hunting dates/regs can be found at https://www2.illinois.gov/dnr/hunting/Documents/HuntTrapDigest.pdf
Current regional sightings
More spring migrants are arriving daily! The first week in May is a great time to look for over 30 varieties of wood warblers; try Campus Woods, Giant City State Park, and the Shawnee National Forest. Most of our breeding birds have also returned, like the Black-bellied Whistling Ducks in Grand Tower. An Anhinga was regular at Oakwood Bottoms for two weeks in early April.
If you're looking for additional ideas about where to go birding in southern Illinois, please consider my new book, Finding Birds in Southern Illinois. It's available in print and PDF versions at www.southwestbirders.com.
About the author
Carbondale is my hometown, where I started birding 50 years ago. I spent an exciting 16 years as a bird guide, and have penned bird-finding books for several Arizona and California counties. I currently reside in Arizona, where you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org