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.
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.
WATER & GRIT [
FOOD & WATER
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.
FOOD & WATER
When it comes to housing there
are a couple of questions to ask yourself:
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.
- 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
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’
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’
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
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"
FOOD & WATER
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).
FOOD & WATER
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.
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
Dove Association and use the bands that you can purchase
through them. CLICK HERE for
a short photo-essay demonstrating how to apply legbands.
HERE to read some notes about breeding Ringneck Doves.