Ringneck Doves: A Handbook of Care and Breeding by Wade Oliver
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There are over 300 different species of doves which inhabit nearly every corner of the world. Doves are often called pigeons or visa versa. In fact there is no real defined division between the two in the wild. Perhaps the most common difference (if there is one) is that the larger birds are often called pigeons and the smaller are called doves.

In the domestic world of doves and pigeons, the term "domestic pigeon" is given to all of the many genetically selected breeds of birds which descend from the Rock Dove. These are actually related to the common pigeons you see in your city picking up bread crumbs and pebbles. This web site does not address these birds but there is a section on the Dove Links page that lists a number of sites to visit regarding such "domestic pigeons."

When it comes to keeping doves the following six subjects must be covered. Click on each link for detail of each subject.

Doves are typically seed eaters. There are a few species, called fruit doves, which live in tropical regions whose staple diet is fruit. There are very few of these in captivity. Since most of the doves in captivity have a staple of seeds we will talk about the seed eaters.

Unlike most pet birds (parrots, finches, parakeets, etc.), doves do not husk the seeds before eating them. They swallow the seeds whole. This is a plus for dove keepers since their is no question about the amount of food in a dish where with other birds the seed cups quickly fill up with husks making it harder to determine the amount of seed. The type of seeds eaten by doves largely depends on the species. While it is true that most doves will do quite well with an ordinary wild bird seed or canary mix from the garden or pet store, most breeders prefer to make their own combinations from various types of seeds. The most common seeds offered to medium sized doves (i.e. ringneck, senegal) are milo, wheat and millet. Small birds (i.e. diamond, cape, ruddy ground) prefer millet or canary grass seed but will often eat milo and wheat if offered. Large doves (i.e. bronzewing, red-eyed) will eat all of the above mentioned seeds as well as larger seeds like pop corn, peas and sunflower seeds. Many of the exotic doves also eat insects and berries in the wild. You may want to offer them maggots or meal worms to supplement their diet. The protein from insects is important so if your birds don't eat them when you offer them (or if they just gross you out) then you may want to offer them boiled eggs (mashed up) for the protein.

Grit should first and foremost include a calcium source (crushed egg shells, oyster shells). Other substances that may be included are; common sand (for food grinding purposes) and tiny bits of charcoal (digestion aid). You may be amazed to see your doves "eating" what seems like just little rocks. The do this for the reasons mentioned above. They need calcium for bone development and egg development. The charcoal helps in digestion and the sand helps grind up the seeds in their gullet. Grit should not be mixed with their food but offered in a separate dish. If you keep you aviary impeccably clean then you may just want to spread a handfull or two of grit on the ground occasionally. Recent studies by Dr. Wilmer J. Miller seem to conclude that sand for food grinding may not be necessary for domestic doves in captivity due to the freshness and softness of the seed that is offered. Doves in the wild require grit for food grinding because of the hard and older seeds they eat.

Doves need access to clean water at all times. They will dehydrate easily and this is a very dangerous condition. There are a number of automatic watering devices available (actually quite inexpensive) but you will still need to check them daily to see that they are not contaminated with droppings and the like.

Doves are very sensitive to the elements. While some doves are quite hardy, it is still very important to offer them shelter from wind and moisture. Many doves will also require heat in the Winter months. This can be offered by heating your outdoor aviary or bringing them inside from the cold.

When it comes to housing there are a couple of questions to ask yourself:
  • How much room do I have to keep doves?
  • What kind of doves do I plan to keep?
  • How many doves will fit comfortably and happily in that space?

Since there are so many dove species available it is often hard to resist keeping and enjoying all of them. One of the biggest mistakes a beginning dove fancier makes is putting too many birds in a single aviary. The amount of room needed per pair of doves depends totally on the kind of dove you plan to keep. Most doves require a large aviary and all doves prefer a large aviary. There are only a few species which will thrive in small cages. Below are examples of a modular aviary design that can be built with any desired dimensions (see sizes mentioned below).

Large Aviary
A large aviary is the ideal situation for keeping all doves. Doves are avid and swift flyers and need plenty of room for exercise. There are countless designs for large aviaries; some quite decorative and others not so decorative. You should take into account the climate of your area when choosing an aviary design. The most common design is a modular style which can be expanded at will. Many large dove keeping operations outfit a large building with numerous (75-100) flights which enables them to keep a tremendous nember of birds. Most back yard aviaries will only accomidate 1 to 4 large flights (see large flight examples by CLICKING HERE and HERE). A large flight could measure something like: width: 6 length: 12 height: 8

Medium Aviary
When you don't have much room perhaps a medium sized aviary will do. Though not ideal and much smaller than the larger flights, there are many species who will do fine in a medium sized aviary. Be sensitive to the needs of your doves. A meduim flight could measure something like: width: 4 length: 8 height: 6

Small Aviary
A small aviary is usually only suitable for the smallest of doves. Most of the larger dove species will not do well at all in small aviaries except for the domesticated Ringneck dove. A small flight could measure something like: width: 3 length: 4 height: 6

Pet Cage - Medium - Large
The two domestic species will actually do quite well wth this size (ringneck & diamond). A medium to large pet cage could measure something like: width: 24-30" depth: 16-18" height: 16-18"

Without this virtue your aviary will be a breeding ground for disease and disaster. You must clean you aviary often to keep disease among your birds to an absolute minimum. There are cases where every bird in an aviary had to be destroyed because of disease which has come from uncleanliness. If the floor of your aviary is dirt then rake it weekly and turn the dirt each spring. If your floor is wood or concrete then wash it regularly. Keep food and water dishes clean at all times. Many diseases are undetectable by the beginner so cleanliness is ultra-important. One bird from an infected aviary that is introduced to another aviary and so on and so on can cause great damage. There are a number of disinfectants available to keep disease down (a common solution consisting of 1 part bleach to 25 parts water is often used).

When a pair of doves are placed together it will take anywhere from a month to a number of years for them to breed. Domestic varieties (ringneck, diamond) usually take less time to establish a pair bond and breed. Some exotic varieties may never breed in your aviary. This is where the challenge of keeping doves comes in. To begin the process you should provide your birds with nesting sites to choose from and plenty of cover for security and privacy. You may want to plant trees and place other plants in ou aviary for cover and nesting. Doves generally lay two eggs which hatch after 12 to 18 days. The young then leave the nest three to four weeks later. It is not uncommon to see some pairs (especially domestic varieties) lay all year beginning on a new clutch every six weeks. This is not recommended because it is unhealthy for the birds. After three or four clutches the breeding for that year should stop by either removing nesting materials or separating the birds.

Doves are not known for their nest building expertise. Dove nests are generaly flimsy structures with just a few twigs seemingly thrown together. It is important that you help them by placing "nesting boxes" in the flight for them to buld nests in. Nesting boxes can be elaborate or simple. They can be constructed of wood or could simply be an old tupperware dish. You decide. Most doves prefer open nests, not covered. It is wise to put more nests in a flight than you have pairs because they like to choose their own nesting site. You may want to put them at various heights as well.

Record Keeping
When breeding birds it is very important that proper records are kept. Things that should be documented for each bird include: hatch date, parent information, color, genetic makeup and any other information you might find interesting. The way that your birds are identified for record keeping purposes is with a leg band. Leg bands are available from a variety of suppliers but we suggest that you join the American Dove Association and use the bands that you can purchase through them. CLICK HERE for a short photo-essay demonstrating how to apply legbands.

Ringneck Doves
CLICK HERE to read some notes about breeding Ringneck Doves.