By Don Adams
Victoria, British Columbia
Canada V8Z LC2
Doves are one of the simplest forms of birds to propagate in captivity, if a little common sense and basic expertise is used. Sometimes it is necessary to colonize doves for convenience’ sake, and this is permissible, providing one knows which species to colonize and which ones not to colonize.
Doves are relatively defenseless when compared to other forms of bird life, such as members of the Parrot family. Although they can give a bruising cuff with the carpal joint of the wing, most of them have no means of quickly doing serious damage. They can, however, peck an unresisting enemy to death if they are shut up in a cage and given plenty of time. Such things do not occur with plenty of freedom.
Let’s look at colony caging first. An aviary ten feet by ten feet will house satisfactorily any species of doves one can think of, from the largest form (Crowned Pigeons) to the smallest form (Pigmy Ground Doves). Generally speaking, one can put together one pair
of small doves such as Diamond Doves and one pair of larger doves such as Senegal Doves without much danger. The Diamond doves are too small to harm the Senegal Doves, and the Diamond Doves are too fast for the Senegal Doves to harm. One must remember to make several nest sites available, however, or confrontation will result. No problems will occur if nesting sites too small for the Senegal Doves to utilize are used for the Diamond Doves and, of course, larger sites for the Senegal Doves should be made available.
Another variation of the same method is to place one pair of Ground Doves (Bronze-Wings, etc.) and one pair of perching doves, such as members of the Turtle (Streptopelia) Dove group together. The Bronze-Wing spends most of its time on the ground, and the Turtle Doves on perches. With a bit of experience, one can get the maximum from the aviary by placing one pair of small ground doves and one pair of large ground doves, one pair of small perching doves and one pair of large perching doves in the same ten by ten aviary. That, in my estimation, is the maximum number of birds for an aviary of that size.
Doves, especially ground doves, require an absolutely dry ground. Without it their life span is considerably shortened. I have found by placing black plastic on top of the ground and placing about four inches of good clean, dry sand on top of the plastic to be a practical solution. I would suggest that a roof cover at least a portion of the aviary. Shrubbery does create more privacy, particularly for ground doves, and it provides excellent nesting sites. An added bonus of shrubbery is the appearance of your aviary. I have always believed that doves in their native habitat consume substantial amounts of insect life. Shrubbery seems to attract insects, and I have seen the doves picking insects from the shrubs. I have noticed several species eat the leaves also.
Colony breeding several specimens of the same species or several species in the same aviary requires a great deal of space to be safely accomplished. My main colony is housed in an aviary forty feet by twenty feet. It is heavily planted with shrubs and houses twenty species, equally divided between ground dwelling and arboreal species. The only apparent danger is to the squabs when they first leave the nest. However, as long as there is adequate cover to hide in, the squabs will safely survive. Other suitable aviary sizes are ten feet by twenty feet, in which several specimens of the same species are housed. Once again, much cover and adequate nesting facilities are required.
The quality of feed is as important to the successful breeding of exotic doves as it is to any other species. They require, and must have, a balanced diet. There are individuals that feed their doves wheat only or corn only or chick scratch (a combination of cracked wheat and cracked corn), and they manage to raise a few offspring each year. However, the aviculturist that faithfully practices a program of an adequate diet consistently produces more offspring and healthier offspring. Most doves require a combination of seeds, such as large white millet, milo, corn, safflower, canary grass seed, rape, flax, shelled sunflower, etc. They also require some animal matter, such as meal worms, crickets or flying insects. However, a good crumbled dog food or commercial insectivorous food is suitable as a substitute. Fruit is also an important part of a dove’s diet. It must be fed in moderation. I have found that certain commercial Mynah bird foods are completely adequate as a fruit substitute.
Fresh water daily is required, and I am firmly convinced that not a drop of water should be given unless medicated with bleach. I also recommend a small daily dosage of water soluble vitamin be given. Doves require vitamin A and D in substantial amounts, and there are several good vitamin solutions high in A and D3 on the market. It is far better to give a little each day in the year than it is to feed nothing during the fall and winter and heavy concentration in the spring and summer.
Cleanliness is also an important factor. There is a legitimate excuse for not cleaning the aviaries during the nesting season. Disturbance of exotic species of doves when they are nesting can be disastrous. However, there is no excuse during other times of the year. Dirty birds are unhealthy birds, usually harboring several bacteria and parasites. Nests should be changed after each nesting. If not, mites can and usually do build up rapidly, resulting in dead squabs as fast as they hatch. If pine needles are used as a nesting material, the pitch helps a great deal in controlling the parasite problem. It is also a good idea to sprinkle each new nest with a little insecticide powder before there are eggs in the nest. This allows the strength of the insecticide to deteriorate before the squabs are hatched. Strong insecticide is just as hazardous to the squabs as are the nest mites.
One of the first questions asked by the prospective dove owner is “What is the difference between pigeons and doves?” The answer is often puzzling as to distinction between the two, ornithologically there is none. The word “pigeon” is of Norman-French, the word “dove” of Anglo-Saxon origin. In common speech, in English, English, the word “pigeon” is usually applied to the larger species such as the Nicobar Pigeon, Band-Tailed Pigeon, and the word “dove” to the smaller ones such as the Diamond Dove, Ring-Neck Dove, etc. The names given to the different species by ornithologists have not followed popular usage in this manner, however. The Stock Dove is a typical example. It is thought of as a “pigeon” by laymen, and it is the ancestor of all our domestic pigeons. However, ornithologists refer to the bird as the “Stock Dove”.