Some unexpected visitors just flew in from the East Coast, and boy, are their wings tired.

Actually, the Eurasian collared dove has been cropping up in Oregon since 1998 or '99 and, according to local Audubon Society records, it first was spotted in Corvallis in 2007. But now the bird's mid-valley numbers really seem to be taking off.

"This is something new," said David Mellinger, vice president of the Audubon Society of Corvallis. "They reached Corvallis a couple of years ago, and suddenly they're all over the place. It seems to be good habitat for them."

Roughly the size of a pigeon, the birds have a brownish back, pale gray belly, gray head and a black half-collar across the back of the neck. The Eurasian collared dove is a bit paler and a bit larger than the mourning dove, perhaps its closest local relative, and its call - a plaintive "hoo-hoo, hoo" - is similar but more rapid.

You might spot one dining at your backyard bird feeder, perched on a telephone line or sitting on a fencepost.

"I have seen them out near the fairgrounds several times recently," said Mellinger, who first encountered the species about a year and a half ago in Newport.

Joel Geier, another local birdwatcher, said he frequently sees them in the Lewisburg area, often on telephone wires near Mountain View Elementary School.

"By now the question is more, ‘Where don't we find them?' They seem to favor low-density and medium-density residential neighborhoods in our area," Geier said.

Although Eurasian collared doves feed on grains and seeds, there have been no reports of crop damage so far, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture. It's not yet clear whether the new arrivals pose any threat to native species such as mourning doves and band-tailed pigeons.

"The jury's still out on that one," said Rick Boatner, who tracks invasive species for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But it does appear they're expanding their range in Oregon."

Boatner said the immigrants have been sighted throughout the Willamette Valley, up and down the coast and in scattered areas east of the Cascades.

Originally native to India, where they were often kept as pets, the birds moved into Turkey and the Balkans in the 1600s and then spread across Europe during the 1900s, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

But the Eurasian collared dove's North American expansion has been nothing short of phenomenal.

"It's kind of an interesting story," said Cornell's David Bonter, director of Project FeederWatch, which monitors bird numbers across North America.

"They were first introduced in the Bahamas in the late 1970s. They were being sold as pets, and the pet store got robbed, and they got loose."

By the early '80s, Eurasian collared doves were breeding in Florida, and they soon established themselves in the Southeast.

"Then, between 2000 and 2007, they made this remarkable expansion from Florida all the way to the Pacific Northwest. Now they're found from Florida all the way to Alaska," Bonter said.

"There has been no other bird that has conquered North America faster than the Eurasian collared dove."

Like a couple of earlier European invaders, the starling and the house sparrow, the Eurasian collared dove is highly adaptable and does well in urban environments, two factors that help to explain its rapid advance across the United States, Bonter added.

"They're a bird that really does well in human-modified landscapes, and we've done a good job of making the world friendly to Eurasian collared doves," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that the Eurasian collared dove will continue to expand and will become one of the most common birds at backyard bird feeders."

Contact Bennett Hall at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@gazette times.com.

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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