Doves and Pigeons as Pets
By PH Budgie
Doves and pigeons, domesticated for thousands of years, have been used in the past as sacrifices to gods, raised for food and kept as pets. Pigeons have carried messages across battlefields and from town to town, been couriers of news from distant relatives or reporters, and transported vital medications to dying people. Nowadays tame pigeons are still used to carry messages, but more commonly are raised for racing, meat, scientific experimentation and "white dove" releases at weddings. A few species of doves are raised as pets and the white Ringneck Doves are often used in magic shows. Wild dove and pigeon hunting is still a popular sport. Over 300 species of the family Columbidae, the classification name for doves and pigeons, exist in the world. The United States has nine native and four introduced species of doves or pigeons.
The difference between doves and pigeons is mostly size. Doves are generally sleeker and smaller with pointed tails, while pigeons are larger and stockier with rounded tails. The common urban pigeon is also known as a "Rock Dove." The popular white dove releases at various celebrations are billed as "dove" releases, but ethical companies always use white homing pigeons, as they return home.
Doves and pigeons make excellent pets. They are attractive, quiet, unobtrusive, have a calming, gentle voice, are fairly easy to tame, generally healthy and hardy, active but not demanding, require little maintenance and are usually inexpensive. They are easy to breed and make excellent parents.
The most common doves kept as pets are the Ringneck and Diamond Doves. The Ringneck Dove has been bred in over 40 color mutations: white, peach, fawn, pied and apricot, to name a few. It is also known as the laughing dove, collared dove, Barbary dove or turtledove, and the white mutation is sometimes called the Java dove, peace dove, or sacred dove.
Color mutations of Diamond Doves include cinnamon, pied, brown, brilliant, yellow, snow white, white tailed, and silver. The Diamond Dove, sometimes called the Little Dove or Little Turtledove, belongs to the genus Geopelia that includes five small, long-tailed doves that eat grains and live in the relatively open savanna and semi-arid regions in Australia. One of the five species, the Zebra Dove, has a range that extends into Southeast Asia and have been imported into and become feral in Hawaii and parts of the continental USA. Four of the species have barred plumage while the Diamond Dove has spotted plumage.
Diamond Doves (Geopelia cuneata) were imported to Europe in the late 1800s. They were raised in the London Zoological Garden as early as 1868. They have become one of the most popular of aviary birds and are an excellent choice for beginners. They rarely get sick and can be kept with other small, peaceful, birds such as finches. They also do well inside and are best kept in pairs. They can live up to fifteen years in captivity, with an average life expectancy of ten years.
The Diamond Dove is one of the smallest of the Australian doves, weighing less than an ounce (23 to 27 grams) and about 7-1/2 to 8-1/3 inches long. Adults have a gray body, creamy-white abdomen, blue gray and chestnut wing feathers with white diamond specks on the wings, a long tail with white tipped outer tail feathers and dark gray bill. The legs and feet are pink. The adult birds' eyes are have orange irises with a pronounced orange-red orbital ring and can often be sexed by the thickness of the eye ring and the color of the wing feathers. At maturity (about one year), the males have a silver gray color and a wide eye ring (about 2-3 mm). The females tend toward a brown gray color and have a thinner eye ring (about 1 mm thick).
Diamond Doves have a variety of cooing calls. Birds in captivity will sometimes imitate human coos, too. They are very affectionate -- when one bird of a pair returns to a nest they often greet each other with very low, raspy coos. At night, if they are not nesting, they cuddle with each other and give their mate a series of very rapid light pecks around the neck and head while slightly shaking their wings. When mated birds become separated they will make a two-note call until they become reunited.
As with all birds, Diamond Doves need enough cage room to move around, roost and exercise comfortably. A pair can be kept in as small as an 18 inch square cage but should be allowed free indoor flight every day. Minimum flight cage size should be 3'x 4'x 6'. They should never be allowed outdoor free flight as they lack the "homing" instinct of pigeons. They eat small whole seeds such as millet, canary grass, milo and wheat (a vitamin-fortified finch mix would work well) and are primarily ground feeders so should be provided separate seed, water and grit containers on or close to the floor. Also provide a cuttlebone, at least two natural-type perches of varying height, size and spacing, a small canary-type nest and dried grasses for nest building. Millet seed sprays, fresh greens, an occasional piece of whole wheat bread, hard boiled egg yolk and small meal worms are welcome treats. Grit should include crushed eggshells or oyster shells for calcium, sand for food grinding purposes, and tiny bits of charcoal as a digestion aid. Clean, fresh water is essential. Water bowls should be open and fairly deep as doves suck water into their bills. Offer a bathing dish once or twice a week with about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of luke-warm water, or mist the birds with a clean spray bottle. Cages should be located in a draft free area away from heating and cooling outlets, open windows, fireplaces and kitchen cooking fumes. If the cage is in a dark room or if the area becomes very cool, add a light attached to a timer. Vitalites, although expensive, provide a healthy light spectrum.
These birds are happiest kept in mated pairs, but unless you want a lot of birds, you should remove the eggs once laid. Males can become territorial and may fight, especially if there is a female present. Females usually get along well together. Courting behavior is charming. The male dove usually begins the mating sequence by flying to the nesting site and incessantly calling for the female to join him. Once she is interested, they both fly to the ground where the male will display his tail feathers like a fan, while touching his beak to the ground. Sometimes he will puff up his feathers and strut around the female, stop, puff his feathers up further, then repeat the cycle. Sometimes separately or at the end of this display, the female will open her beak and the male will feed her like he would a baby, but the actions are much more violent and often end with the male violently slapping his wings against the ground. After mating the male will give a series of very short coos for a minute or so while both remain very still.