Forget the house sparrow. The fastest-spreading exotic bird in U.S. history is the Eurasian collared-dove, plumper than the mourning dove and with a black stripe on its neck.
Since the 1990s it has expanded from Florida to Alaska. Native to the Indian subcontinent, a few dozen escaped in the Bahamas after a 1974 pet store robbery. Some of the escapees (or their offspring) presumably flew to Florida, where, in 1982, researchers first recorded them breeding.
The doves, which prefer suburban and agricultural landscapes, now cover most of the Lower 48—except the Northeast— and a swath of western Canada to southern Alaska.
“It’s almost unfathomable how successful they’ve been and how quickly they’ve spread,” says David N. Bonter, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s assistant director of citizen science. “I don’t think anyone saw it coming.”
They’ve likewise colonized Europe from southeast to northwest, leading scientists to surmise that juveniles are genetically wired to disperse in that direction. While little is known about whether the doves displace native species, the potential is certainly there, says Bonter, particularly in the food-scarce North.
This story originally ran in the November-December 2013 issues as "Fits Like a Dove."