Q. What should I feed my doves and where do I get it?
A. Doves are seed eaters by nature. They are more like chickens than anything else, with the exception that they feed their young. Because of the way their digestion works, they require grit to be in their crop (think stomach) to grind the surfaces off of their seed eaten. In nature, they pick up the grit while eating. In a cage, they depend on you to furnish that grit. Therefore, the feed I recommend is called game bird. Many feed mills make it under different brand names. There are several variations of the feed. I use game bird breeder. However, there is also game bird grower and game bird starter. I never use game bird starter. It is powdery fine and hard for adult birds to eat. Some simply won't try. Game bird feeds usually contain ground oyster shell as grit, which also adds calcium, needed for eggshells. The ration is a balanced feed for caged birds. It comes in both small pellets and crumbles. Crumbles are the better choice for doves. A 50-lb. bag should cost less than $10.00 from a farm feed store and lasts a long time. I recommend keeping it in a covered plastic bucket or box to keep it dry. That and plenty of fresh clean water are all that they must have.
Q. What food treats can I give my doves?
A. Doves lead a rather dull life by our standards. However, life has its ice cream shops even for doves. Caged birds are forced to eat what is available. Fortunately, well balanced diets for them are available in the form of game bird feeds. However, they still like to rough it sometimes. The cheapest treats are stems of seed from weeds, rye, oats, etc. Remember whatever seeds they don't eat stand a chance of being planted. Any seed for parakeets and wild birds are usually welcome to doves. (Yes, sunflower seeds too! Get the small black ones.) Do not forget that, by their very nature, doves are less than courageous. Don't get your feeling hurt if a treat is rejected the first few times. Bravery comes slowly for doves, but they like most treats once they try them. They also will eat crumbled up boiled eggs. Other items include raw oatmeal, grits, sesame seed, unpopped popcorn, corn bread, and tomato seeds. For training purposes, nothing is better than their regular everyday feed.
Q. Are there "Dove Toys" I can get my birds?
A. Doves lead a simple life and their toys are simple. However, they do prize them. You don't have to take out a loan for dove toys. Perches are just sticks but there is no place like home. For developmental reasons young birds especially need perches of different diameters. Doves don't seem to enjoy swings or mirrors. A handful of dry grass or cotton string with pieces over four inches long will set the whole population to building and advertising. Sometimes they just like to carry it around. (Pride of ownership I guess) Avoid nylon and plastics that deteriorate in light. Later a bird might eat small pieces causing death. Next time you trim the hedge or small limbs, put some leafy ones in the cage for entertainment. The poor birds will research every part of it like Grand Canyon.
Q. Are there special treats I can do for my doves?
A. Sure there are. Two things doves enjoy playing in are water and sand. Not exactly the beach, but who cares. An old pie plate (glass or metal) makes the perfect resort for doves. Just fill it full of water or sand and watch the party begin. Don't worry about the temperature. If the water doesn't freeze, it's warm enough. Mine also like playing in the lawn sprinkler when they can. Just remember to keep the eggs and food dry. They will make a mess so you can't just leave the "resorts" in the cage all the time.
Q. Which is harder on doves outside, hot weather or cold weather?
A. In my opinion, based just on the last twenty years, water is the key to how well doves survive weather. The need for water in hot weather is obvious. I lose more doves in the winter when the water freezes and they can't drink. Doves that survive the winter do well in the summer. Common sense should dictate that doves need both shade from the sun and protection from the coldest wind. I never use anything but unpainted wood for perches. Other perches conduct heat and cold. Wood does not conduct heat and cold. Birds on plain wire are at more risks in the winter. If a dove survives his first winter, odds are he will make it a dozen or more years. It is not unusual to lose twenty per cent of new birds their first winter.
Q. Is it OK to feed my doves chicken feed?
A. Maybe. If the chicken feed is a processed product containing grit, grain, and other supplements, or called a complete ration, it may be OK. Remember that doves are not meat and insect eaters. Chickens are. Read the tags on the bag of feed. Doves will eventually die on a diet of pure grains. They must have grit. In the short run (two weeks) the best chicken feed to feed doves is scratch feed available at grocery stores. It is all grain but cheap. Pet stores are rarely the right place to buy game bird feed. Yet some sell doves. On the other hand, some sporting stores carry feed and items for raising quail. Therefore, they have game bird feed. Aside from dying, a good sign the feed is wrong is when birds that lay eggs frequently, quit laying.
Q. Will snakes get into outdoor cages with doves?
A. They have and they do. However, snakes are usually after eggs or very small baby birds. Sometimes a snake will be trapped in the cage after eating because he is too big around to get out. I live in Alabama and have never had the problem here. Out west, we did. The easy way to avoid the situation, if you live where snakes are a problem (Florida, Texas, etc.), is to hang the cage from the top rather putting it on legs. Old swing sets work great. and make it easy to mow grass and clean up.
Q. I've been told that doves attract mice. Is that true?
A. Are you willing to believe that? Mice are sometimes found around aviaries (places where birds are raised). They aren't there for the birds. They are there for the bird feed. Don't make it easy for them. Keep the feed stored in a covered container and throw the paper bags away. Rubbermaid and other companies sell loads of good feed keepers. Plastic buckets with tops work well too. You can get them from bakeries for less than a dollar. Don't give mice a route to get into the birdcage. Keep the cages high off the ground. And keep the area around the cages clean of spilled feed. We have a cat, but he would only eat microwaved mice. Having mice is not required.
Q. After a while, if I turn my white doves loose outside, will they stay home?
A. Did you? The white birds rented to moviemakers, shopping centers, etc. are not doves. They are pigeons. Pigeons can find their way home. Doves wake up in a new world every day. They could not find the back yard from the back porch. Out of sight is the same as lost forever. So it depends on how far they go a day. Life is hard in the wilds for a white dove. They are the worst possible color for survival. The most colorblind predator isn't confused by a white dove's protective coloration. Owls and hawks as well as house cats think white doves are delicious and easy to catch. Don't turn your birds out, if you want them back.
Q. How much should I feed the birds everyday? I give them about 2 tablespoons and sometimes there is a lot left over, sometimes not. Can you over feed this way?
A. I never worry about over feeding doves. They seem to do best when fed free choice to eat what they will. My doves, kept in cages of two, eat about a cup of feed a day. The feed I use is game bird breeder crumbles. Here in the South it is about $9.50 for a fifty pound bag. Care has to be taken to keep the feed from getting down to a fine powder that the birds have difficulty both picking up and digesting. When it gets to that stage, I throw it out. Adult birds (two years and older) eat less than younger birds. Babies put a great load on the feeding parents and may eat twice what an adult eats in a day. Remember that doves eat all day long when it is light. Longer light hours require more feed. Doves also drink a lot when they eat a lot. Poor water supply is probably the number one killer of caged doves. If doves can get into their feed with their feet, most will waste more feed by throwing it out than they eat.
Q. I don't want my birds to raise babies. I need them for my act. How do I stop them?
A. Nothing will stop doves from starting a successful nest like over population of the cage. It becomes nearly impossible. Four doves in a cage 24" x 18" and 18" high are enough to usually stop successful nest building. I don't like to see them in a smaller cage for long. Six birds will do fine in a cage that size, if you will watch the feed and water closely. The next choice is to remove eggs as they appear. The only sure solution is to use all male birds. Unless you actually let the birds set the eggs, no harm is done. Laying eggs is no real obstacle, if you remove them. I personally believe pairs take care of each other better than singles do. Looking good for the show is very important to me.
Q. Do doves have to be a certain age before they lay eggs?
A. Female doves need to be nearly a year old before starting a nest. However, because doves are "long day" breeders, the mix of daylight and dark in a given day also matters. Here in the South, doves lay eggs from about the end of February through October and have successful nests. If you take the eggs out of the nest, the females recycle in about ten days during extra daylight hours. (If you have a show and need the bird, you should make them start over. Once an egg gets cold, it will never hatch. The parents' ability to make "pigeon milk" to feed the young is also interrupted.) In the dark season, you will see an occasional egg but seldom a successful nest. Interestingly, when the spring comes, young females hatched early in the season have no noticeable advantage in starting a nest over females hatched late in the summer.
Q. Do female doves always lay eggs? I have had 7 doves for about 2 months and there have been no eggs.
A. There are many reasons why a female dove will not lay eggs. Nutrition is one factor. I recommend game bird layer feed for the breeder doves. That is the same feed used to raise quail and pheasants. Assuming good health, the other two common reasons are no mate or crowded conditions. A single isolated female is unlikely to lay eggs. Two females will frequently start a nest together. You can spot it because it will have four eggs instead of two. Some doves seem to like some privacy for their nests. You may want to put a small (9x12) piece of cardboard between cages to cut line of vision. Remember they are magic doves. Some only do things their way. Appreciate surprises. You will get better results in cages with pairs than with more birds together, even with plenty of room. Doves never build a nest with a guestroom.
Q. I see my birds sometimes peck at each other's back and wing areas. Is this normal or are they fighting.
A. Yes, it is normal and this might be considered fighting in some respects. When there are only two birds and there is sufficient space (They need about three square feet and 18 inches high.), the most common reason is that one wants to start a nest and the other says, "not with me Buddy". Aggressive males in particular will "drive" another bird (not necessarily a female) to a nest. Behavior, which also goes with this, is the male holding his head close to the ground and cooing softly. Usually nature takes its course. If you see real injury to a wing (shoulder) or the back that bleeds, things are getting too rough. Separate the birds and isolate the injured bird a few days.
There can be another reason. If you add birds to a male's cage, at times he will try to drive them away regardless of sex. When mating new pairs, I find it best to put both birds into new surroundings so no one has the home advantage. Over feed and water a few days and give plenty of perching space. Usually, within two weeks they will start perching together at night. From there on, you are the intruder. You can move them together wherever you need to. Over crowded birds will definitely peck each other. Some doves simply don't like each other.
Q. What is the most common mistake people make in taking care of doves?
A. The most common reason doves die from human error is lack of drinking water. Waterers made for most caged birds are too shallow for a dove to drink from. Doves fully dunk their beaks to drink. Therefore, once the water is less than about three quarters of an inch deep they can't drink it. It may look full and they may still play in it. But they cannot drink it.
Q. Do doves eat insects?
A. No, doves are essentially seed eaters. They eat seed whole rather than hulling them as do parakeets. They seem to prefer small grass and short grain seeds. However, they will surprise you sometimes and eat shelled peanuts and even large sunflower seed.
Q. Can I keep my doves in cages outdoors?
A. That is the only way I keep them now. I have tried both. Doves are not the perfect indoor bird. They are much like chickens. They scatter their food and the length of day light controls their lives. They are active when it is light and go to sleep when it gets dark. As long as their quarters are safe from predators, they have water, food and shade, and the temperatures are reasonable; doves do fine outdoors.
Q. Is there a quick and easy to get transport cage available for doves?
A. Yes, there are many. However, without a doubt, the best I have found for the effort is a cat caddie (don't tell the birds) transport cage. They are relatively inexpensive (under $20.00), readily available (any WalMart or pet shop), lockable with a pad lock, people don't know what you are carrying because the walls are nearly solid, come apart for easy cleaning, come in good colors, will contain any spills, can be the overnight quarters for the doves on the road, and do not rust on your birds' feathers.
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By Bob Sanders