In the home, the ringneck dove may be kept in a parrot cage or a parakeet flight cage. Doves have neither the strength nor the destructive tendencies of the parrots, so heavy duty wire is not required. You do want as large a cage as possible. Remember, doves don’t climb, as do parrots and cockatiels. This means that doves can only exercise by flying back and forth. For a pair of doves, you need a cage at least twenty-four inches long, by twelve inches wide, and eighteen inches high. The larger, wrought iron cages are even better yet. The cage surely can’t be too large. The roomier the cage, the more enjoyable it is for the birds. You will derive the most pleasure from the birds when they are kept in a spacious enclosure. Just make sure that the bars are close enough together so that your pets can’t stick their heads out of the cage. If the birds can do this, it is possible for them to get stuck and injure themselves, perhaps fatally!
Doves have long been known as the symbol of peace. This is true for if the doves are kept with other types of birds, but it is not true for other doves. The only safe way to house an adult pair of doves is one pair to a cage. If your bird was hand reared, and if someone is home all day, by all means keep it by itself. The bird will not be lonely, for it has you for company. In general though, all doves should be kept in pairs. This means a male and a female, for two males will always fight, as will occasionally two females. Since, for most species, it is not easy to distinguish the sexes, you must rely on the knowledge, skill, and honesty of your dealer. If a mistake is made, you should be allowed to “trade in” one of the birds, in order to be able to make up a true pair.
The diamond dove, since it is a diminutive and thoroughly domesticated species, is also suitable for cages in the home. Any finch or budgie flight cage will suitably house these delightful birds.
For display in the home, don’t be tempted to build your own cage. Unless you possess both the skills and tools of a master craftsman, your homemade cage will look awful. Once you add up the cost of all the materials required, you will see that it is much more economical to simply buy one of the many attractive and easily cleaned cages available at your local pet shop. If you intend to keep a number of ringneck doves, you may house them in a loft, just like fancy or racing pigeons. The loft may be a building in the garden or on the roof, built specifically for the birds. A shed or out-building can also be converted for this purpose. First, check out all relevant building and health codes and laws. If it is against the law to keep pigeons in your town, you might have trouble convincing the officials that your doves merit an exception to the rules! Secondly, make sanitation a paramount concern. All surfaces, especially the floor must be easily cleaned. Ideally, this should be done every day. The whole structure must be completely scrubbed before each change of season. Special disinfectants that are death to germs, but safe to people and birds are sold by veterinarians and livestock supply houses.
Vermin and predators are the third concern. Surely mice and rats will be attracted to the bird food. Rats and mice waste the birds’ seed and spread disease. Rats will even kill and eat the doves and eggs. The loft must be constructed so that these menaces can not gain entry. The best idea is to build upon a concrete floor. If this is not possible, have an open space under the loft. This will hinder the pests from burrowing inside.
If you allow the birds outside, larger predators can be a problem. House cats roam everywhere. They will be attracted to the birds. Wild animals may also hunt your birds. My birds are literally in view of the skyscrapers of New York City. Even in this most urban of locales, I have to worry about attacks from hawks, falcons, raccoon, and opossums. Keep in mind that these predators are doing what Nature intended them to do. It is up to you to practice proper management so that the lives of your doves will not be at risk.
You will also want to minimize the contact between your doves and wild birds and their droppings. Street pigeons are carriers of hosts of diseases and parasites. The wire used to construct the outer flights must be small enough to keep out sparrows. The house sparrow may transmit disease, and they will surely break your budget by constantly eating the doves’ food.
Cats and dogs can be the best friend of the bird keeper. A pet cat can be taught to stay away from the flights and cages. A cat on patrol will eliminate all rodent problems. A well trained dog is an invaluable asset. The canine will scare off larger predators. A guard dog will also keep thieves and vandals from interfering with your birds.
When kept in a loft, your ringneck doves should be given an opportunity to enjoy the sun and fresh air. The most convenient way to do this is to attach a flight to the building. A flight is a caged in area. This can be as small as a few square feet, or it can be big enough for you to walk into. If the area beneath the flight is earth, construct the flight as a suspended cage. Your birds will then not be able to come in contact with their own droppings. You will clean the area under the flight with a rake. If you want to be able to walk into the flight, it will be necessary to set the wire into a concrete base. The concrete can be scraped and then hosed down, to insure proper sanitation.
On an outside flight the best wire to use is the one-half inch by one inch welded wire. This material will exclude rats, raccoons, opossums, cats, hawks, and most dogs. Mice will be able to fit through it, though. If mice are a very great problem, use two layers of wire, one layer being the one-half inch by one inch, the other of quarter inch square mesh. The quarter inch square screen will keep out all rodents, but makes the birds more difficult to see. The one-half inch by one inch material is firm enough so that it may be stapled to a wood frame. It is also possible to fasten it to a frame of metal or pvc pipes with loops of straight wire. When your flight is finished, before putting the birds in, paint everything with black polyurethane paint. By using black, you will immensely improve visibility – the wire mesh will almost seem to disappear!
Breeding cages can also be made out of the welded wire screen. A good size for a pair of ringneck doves is thirty-six inches by eighteen inches by eighteen inches. If you want to produce specific colors or to exhibit your doves, it will be necessary to keep them in individual cages. This is the only way to be absolutely certain of the parentage of any offspring. For small cages, no frames are needed. To make a cage of the above dimensions, start with three pieces of wire – two pieces eighteen inches square, and one piece thirty-six inches by seventy-two inches. On a sturdy straight surface, put three bends in the long piece, each bend at eighteen inches. This will give you four sides. A special pliers and crimps are available to join the sides together. Droppings and other refuse will drop right out of the cage. Sheet metal can be placed to keep the area under the cage neat. The metal can also be placed between the cages to keep the pairs from bothering each other.
Accommodations for the more exotic foreign doves will be covered in future articles.