Dove Couples & Mating

New Mate Mating Rituals Billing Mating Mount Fertilization
Cloaca Unwelcome Mate Bonded Pair Mate Loss Same Sex Pair

 

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New Mate:

 

Upon initial introduction to a new mate, the male dove will often engage in a loud display of bowing & cooing at the new intruder. He may also peck, bite and chase the new, uninvited female guest, sometimes cackling maniacally in the process. The reaction and degree will depend on the personality of the male. Usually, the display does not last more than a day or two before they settle down to sharing a perch and eating together and begin to accept the company of the other. The male may c to peck at (Drive) the female if there are other males nearby, to assert his ownership and let her know to stay away from other males. Blocking their view of the other males will be essential to reducing the "driving" of the female. A towel on the cage works well for blocking the view of the other males.

If the female had a former mate that she can hear, it may take a long time until she accepts the new male, unless her former mate is also distracted with the introduction of a new female so he will not continue to call for his old mate. 

One exception I have witnessed, where a male would not accept a new female was due to her coloring which was identical to a dominant male known by the group. All of the males rejected her as a male. The problem was solved by pairing her with a new male who was not familiar with the male whom she resembled.

 

Mating Rituals:

 

The first signs of imminent mating will be preening. First the doves will preen their own feathers near the new mate and once both are preening at once, the next sign of progress will be to start preening each other. As the preening is accepted by the other mate, they will move the preening toward the face and neck. The male will start cooing on the perch with his head down at a 45 degree angle while flicking his wings with a rasping sound. He will tilt his head with a coy look to gain attention from the female.

 

Billing:

 

Preening around the bill will soon become "billing" where the two doves nibble each other's bill. The male will open his bill for the female to mimic the feeding ritual. He will raise his head and neck up and down a few times to regurgitate a small amount of food from his crop which the females will partake during the "billing" ritual as she inserts her bill into the males mouth, sometimes, very deeply and aggressively while wobbling her wings like a baby bird, which she will do each time she wants the male to allow her to partake food from his mouth. This is a very personal and sensual ritual for the doves. If the female is close to egg gestation, she will become very aggressive in her advances and billing. During the normal billing, it is common for both doves to pause to preen their feathers. In this way, they are preparing the feathers for the mating. If the vent or tail feathers clump or get in the way, the mating will be unsuccessful. The wing feathers must not have any problems while the male is fluttering his wings to maintain his balance. When the female is ready, she will crouch down low and flatten her body to allow the male to mount. He may stop to preen just before mounting her. 

 

The Mating Mount:

 

Once the male has jumped onto the female's back, both facing the same direction, he will need to have enough room to fully flutter his wings to hover in place while holding onto the female's back feathers with his feet and claws, while maneuvering his tail around the side of the female's tail to position his cloaca (vent) underneath to contact with the female's cloaca. There is no external difference between the male and female sex organs. It is basically a sphincter type opening for both defecation and reproduction. 

This entire mounting and mating process takes only a few seconds. As the male is maneuvering around and beneath the female's tail, he is flapping his wings vigorously to maintain his position and is nearly falling off of her back at the moment of contact. When the male dismounts at the end of the mating, one or both doves may utter a quick laugh. I have noticed that it appears that the laugh is acknowledgement between the doves that the male was successful in making contact. If both doves laugh, the mating was achieved. If only the male laughs, he thought he was successful but apparently missed the mark. I have noticed that this seems consistent with a bad mount where he loses his balance. It is further confirmed by the female's attempt to start billing within a few minutes of completion of the mating encounter, which implies that he did not get it right and they may repeat the process again within a few minutes. 

 

Fertilization:

 

In this brief mating encounter, the male must manage to deposit a small drop of semen onto the outside of the female's cloaca which she everts by inhaling air which she can redirect into the vent area to exert as an internal counter pressure behind the cloaca. The male also uses air to express the semen out of his cloaca and onto that of the female. Using air pressure in this manner, exposes part of the inner surface of the cloaca which will deliver the drop of semen into the reproductive tract when the female releases the pressure to return the everted cloaca to normal. This process is truly a split second encounter as the male is only in contact for only a brief moment. 

The process of using internal air in this manner can be better observed when watching the female lay an egg. You will be able to see her puff herself up and express air to assist in pushing out the egg. You can then hear the sounds she makes in using internal air pressure in conjunction with muscle contraction and soft tissue expansion. This, of course, is my personal observation and there may be other schools of thought on this subject. The use of air by the dove was most profound when one of my females frequently became egg bound and required human intervention to assist in expressing her egg.

If there is a problem with the eggs not being fertile, it may help to remove a few of the feathers around the cloaca of both the male and female dove. Just enough feathers to uncover the cloaca. This often corrects the fertility problem, as the feathers tend to get in the way during mating and may prevent contact between the male and female cloaca. Don't get carried away removing the feathers. You only need to expose the vent enough for contact. This is my personal opinion only. If you own a show dove, this process would be inadvisable and you should seek advice from a dove show expert.

 

Cloaca:

 

Both male and female cloaca's are similar in appearance from the outside. It is a single opening used both for mating and defecation. There are some subtle differences internally between the reproductive organs. The only externally detectible difference would be the size of the opening in the pelvic bones around the cloaca is frequently larger on the female. Most males have pelvic bone openings too small to pass an egg that large, but this is not always the case. There are exceptions and even an expert breeder is often fooled.  The female's pelvic bones are designed to expand if needed to pass a large egg. As they get older and have laid eggs for a couple years, the expansion of the pelvic bones and the size of the cloaca will be larger than that of a young female in her first season.

 

Unwelcome mating:

 

Male doves will often try to mount and mate subordinate male doves who are lower in the pecking order. This is a display of power and seniority intended to demean the other male dove and remind him of his place in the pecking order. Some highly submissive males, usually without a mate, will just crouch on the perch and tolerate the aggressive male's mount and mating as an unwilling participant. There is no billing or preening involved in these situations. 

During a wing boxing and nipping battle between the more senior males posturing for a higher position or to maintain their senior position in the pecking order, the males will endeavor to mount their opponent. The defender will raise one or both wings to dislodge the aggressor from achieving a mounting position to mate, and will try to walk out from under him or impede his efforts by forcing him into obstructions and walls if necessary to dislodge his attempts. A successful mount and mating of the male will cost the recipient his senior position in the pecking order.

Senior males will also mount and mate the female companions of his opponents to assert his seniority and as a show of force to the defending male. I have one geriatric white male dove that will immediately mount and mate any dove that he encounters. He is close to 10 years old and still king of the roost and constantly cooing to remind the other males that he is in charge, even though they cannot see into his cage. There are a couple young males that will put up a fight to keep him from mounting them, but he will try to stand on their wings and hang on tightly with his feet and claws to stay on long enough to complete the mating contact. He is handy for occasions where a female is ready to lay eggs and does not have a companion able to fertilize her eggs.

 

The Bonded Couple:

 

Dove couples who have bonded with each other will remain together for life unless separated by death or other means beyond their control. They will defend and protect each other against threats and will jump between the mate and the source of impending danger and sacrifice their own safety to protect their mate. In watching the couples, I have seen great compassion shared between each pair. Although there are differences in personalities and the way each pair interacts, some of the pairs are extremely considerate of their mate. If the mate has been in a struggle that damages feathers, the other mate will preen and nibble on their partner to help fix up their feathers and lift their spirits. When one of the mates is ill or injured, I have seen the other mate preen, nibble and show great affection toward the ailing partner in more than one instance. Unlike chickens who attack & kill another chicken who is sick, I have seen doves in captivity show compassion, kindness and affection for an ailing dove, even if the ailing dove is not a companion or is a complete stranger.

Many dove couples are very attuned to their mates needs, showing gentility and caring. Even the mate of my aggressive white male dove still shows loyalty to her partner, despite his constant jabbing and cooing jags. She will mournfully call for him if he is absent and will preen and care for him when he is ill even though he beats up on her. Even though he often chases her off of the perch or out of the nest so he can have it to do his cooing in, she always returns to his side. I tried offering her the choice of a much nicer male, and although they got along well, she would not be disloyal to her bonded partner.  It is very difficult to separate an established pair of doves. They will continue to call for the absent companion for months and will show signs of depression and grieving for the missing companion.

 

Loss of a Mate:

 

I have seen more than one dove grieving the loss of a mate. One such male dove pulled out all of his feathers, except for his head where he could not reach. He looked like a naked chicken ready to roast. I had to make sock outfits to keep him warm until his feathers grew back. It was not until I found a new companion that was to his liking that he stopped pulling out his feathers, began normal preening to impress the new female and regrew his entire covering of feathers.

Another male stopped eating when his mate died and had to be forced to eat by hand feeding baby bird slurry until a replacement could be found. He just sat in one spot on the perch, fluffed up and depressed refusing to eat, preen or function at all. I found it helpful to hold and pet him for several hours each day after his mate died. He would sleep wrapped in a towel where he could be with me. It seemed to help until his new mate arrived. A dove can die in just a few days by refusing to eat or drink, so it is important to intervene if you have a dove that is depressed or not eating.

 

Same Sex Couples:

 

Same sex couples are not unusual in dove culture. Not only do humans mistakenly pair the wrong sexes, it seems that doves in the wild often do the same. This is not a political situation and it has no similarity to human issues. Doves external reproductive organs are identical. Their mating is hormonally driven by an instinct to seek a mate, build a nest and procreate.

I have three male doves that were erroneously mismatched at one time and have quite a bit of data on the subject, although unintentional. From what I have noticed, same sex dove couples will go through the same billing and mating rituals as with a standard couple, although you may have both bowing and cooing if they are males and certainly no eggs. However, the mated males will happily sit and attempt to hatch plastic eggs in the nest. If you have two females, then you would end up with 4 eggs instead of two, or laying clutches of eggs too close together. Two females do not drive the other as a male would although they usually both want the nest, and in the situation where I had two females paired, the second female laid her egg in the seed dish because the other female had possession of the nest.

Another clue to having two males would be if he wing boxes the new intruder. I have not seen a male dove wing box a female.

Females do not normally engage in wing slapping and usually try to stay out of the way. The exception is a jealous female. I have a male Dove that initially mated with another male as his companion which was mistaken for an immature female. They were very happy together until I discovered my mistake and replaced him with a female, moving him to a separate cage where the former pair could no longer see each other. The dominant male readily accepted the new female companion and began mating after a week. When the former male companion returned a month later, it was the very jealous female who attacked her mate's former boyfriend while her mate looked on, sheepishly from the background. This is the only instance I have seen where the female attack another Dove.

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