Birds ignite our wonder and offer inspiration. The ancient Greeks viewed them as messengers of the gods, and poets like Emily Dickinson relished their majesty. Humans have found many meanings in doves: Mentioned 47 times in the Bible, these beautiful birds have come to symbolize hope, purity, peace, and, to Christians, the Holy Spirit.
However, this symbolism is lost on believers who engage in dove hunting.
Approximately 20 million doves are murdered every year for the bloodthirsty thrill of killing, making these gentle birds the most heavily hunted animal in the U.S. During coordinated dove hunts, social, sensitive birds are shot out of the sky and often even cruelly duped by decoys that create the appearance of a safe, bird-friendly field. It’s time not only for our state wildlife departments to protect doves but also for followers of Jesus to speak up on these birds’ behalf.
Who could forget the dove of Genesis 8:9–11 who brought Noah—and a beleaguered ship of animals—hope by way of an olive branch, announcing that land was finally near? Doves aren’t merely useful as messengers—they’re intelligent, sentient beings capable of recognizing themselves in mirrors and using complex methods of communication and navigation.
What a poignant symbol of hope, new life, and the promise of a world restored is the dove. Believers cherish the story of Noah’s ark and the deep spiritual meaning in the image of the dove and olive branch, but they should be outraged that under the guise of “sport,” hunters are murdering them.
Have these hunters forgotten Matthew 3:16, which describes when the heavens opened at Jesus’ baptism and the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Him in the shape of a dove? At this pivotal moment in the Christian faith, God declared and confirmed the ministry of His son. The skies today reveal a much more grisly sight: unsuspecting doves in the line of fire. There’s no reconciling such cruelty with their biblical significance.
Many theologians look to the dove’s feathers for even more meaning. Some claim the nine feathers on each wing represent the nine gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:7–11 or the nine fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22–23. Others see the five tail feathers, which point toward a dove’s head when he or she hovers, as a reminder of the Holy Spirit, who points to Christ as the head of the church, or as echoing His five-fold ministry in Ephesians 4:11. How unsettling then that hunters mark their calendars, purchase ammunition, and note the hunting quotas in preparation to murder doves this season. Consider the cry of the prophet who “moaned like a mourning dove” in Isaiah 38:14: “Lord come to my aid!”
Believers everywhere should heed the call of doves, who need our protection. Start by sharing this post and other information about the cruelty of hunting with your community. Then, consider calling or writing your church leaders to ask for their support in raising awareness of this heinous pastime. It’s about more than the murder of a beloved Christian symbol—it’s about the murder of a precious part of God’s creation.