General Health, Welfare & Maintenance
Doves have a soft bill which is very sensitive to pain and will bleed if injured. There is a difference between a birds beak versus a bill. A beak is found on birds such as a parrot is made of hard tissue like a fingernail or a horn and the tip of it is hard which can be filed like a fingernail without pain or bleeding at the edge as long as you don't go too deep. A bill such as that of a dove or a duck is soft tissue. It bleeds and tears and has sensitive feeling. It is soft which bends and flexes and is susceptible to injury and is why the dove cannot harm you with a peck or a bite. The soft bill cannot hurt you. Where a beak would grow back, a bill will not. Once damaged, if it cannot usually be repaired using stitches, the damage is permanent. Doves make many unusual facial expressions with the flexibility of their bill.
Doves cannot chew cuttlebone or mineral blocks or toys or eat hard shelled seeds because their soft bills are not capable of biting into anything in contrast to a parrot which has a hard beak that can bite into and crush any of the items aforementioned. Calcium deficiency is very high among caged doves, more so than other types of birds because of their soft bills. Severe calcium deficiency can cause soft shelled eggs, neurological problems and easily broken bones. It is difficult to find a decent, fortified seed for doves in the average pet store other than for wild birds. Hi calcium grit and oyster shell is essential. If you can find calcium carbonate, even better to add to the grit. The seed alone is not enough. If you read the ingredients of most Avian vitamins, you will find that most do not contain any calcium except for one brand, Avian in a yellow bottle. If you cannot find this liquid vitamin to add to the water, grind up a mineral block into dust and add it either to the grit or the seed. See more about this in the feeding habits section of this website.
|Eating & drinking:
Doves cannot eat the same size of seeds that pigeons can. The large seeds lodge in their throats and choke them. Doves cannot eat hard shelled seeds and prefer to have "Shelled" seeds if available. They are not big on fruits and vegetables, but if you feed these, chop them up to small seed size so the dove can swallow them because they cannot chew or break the food down and put the fresh vegetables (such as greens) or fruits into a separate dish and throw it away after sitting out for 24 hours because it will develop mold and fungus which is not healthy for the bird. The water needs to be changed every day. Be sure to clean out the invisible slime that develops in the bottom of a water bowl each day. In fact, it is a good idea to wash the food and water dishes each day. (be sure to rinse well and remove any soap residue) Especially since doves tend to poop in their food and water. Make sure the water is never less than an inch deep because the dove drinks with its bill straight down like a straw. Also, be sure to always have a separate dish of hi calcium grit in the cage. The dove will decide when it needs to eat it. I prefer the oyster shell. You can add you Calcium carbonate or powdered mineral block to the dish and the dove will help themselves. If you are going to feed a dove egg shells, be sure that the egg shells have been boiled to kill bacteria and ground into small pieces that wont stick in the doves throat. I don't recommend egg shells for doves, but it is up to the owner. I have seen some of my own doves eat their egg shells. There is more information in the feeding habits section of this website.
Normal dove feathers mesh together like any normal bird feather. Silky doves are an exception. Silkies cannot fly because their feathers do not mesh together. Some can fly a few feet at best. Having non-meshing feathers makes it difficult for them to maneuver in some cages because they have problems getting back up to the perch with the type of feathers they have. Although the Silky owner does not have to worry about the dove flying away, I find that the silkies are extremely frustrated emotionally at their limitations. It is the meshing that provides the lift to fly. See photos in the feather section.
Feathers have more than one purpose. In addition to providing lift to fly, feathers are used to regulate body temperature. Often, you will see a dove shiver when it is cold. Shivering causes the feathers to fluff up and provides extra, thicker insulation to keep out the cold. It is similar to a human getting Goosebumps when cold. If you had a feather on each goose bump, it would be fluffed out like the birds. The dove will also pull the head down close to its body, hold the wings tight against the body and will squat down against the feet to stay warm. It will look like a fluffed up feather ball.
When a dove is at a comfortable temperature, the feathers are laying flat against its body. If a dove is hot, the dove will hold its wings away from the body to allow air to circulate under the wings. Sometimes they will pant and try to find water to splash on themselves to cool off. The dove may also molt or remove some of the pin feathers under the wings in hot weather.
Feathers also enable the parents to keep a newborn baby or an egg warm. If the parent does not fluff the feathers under its body, the baby or egg will chill because flattened feathers will insulate the heat away from the baby or egg. The parent's feathers must be fluffed out like a skirt of feathers that have to settle over and surround the baby or egg like a curtain of feathers allowing the heat from the parents body to envelop the baby or egg between the feathers You will notice that the dove parent will fluff out and preen the abdominal feathers before sitting on the baby.
Feathers also shed water. The doves have a natural dusty substance that coats the feathers as the dove preens and keeps the feathers waterproof. Once the dove is bathed, it will lose this dusty layer for a week or two so it is important that the bathed dove be kept inside because their feathers will not shed water.
Feathers also offer double protection against predators. Feathers act as a barrier between the teeth of the predator and the doves body. More importantly, the pin feathers on the back, chest and abdomen will easily come out with the slightest touch, enabling the do to slip out of the predators grasp and escape, leaving the predator behind with only a mouth full of feathers.
Doves usually molt late summer every two years. Not all feathers will molt at once. They will molt in sections in the same order they originally grew their first feathers. There may be bare spots or intermittent feathers molting, but the dove will never lose enough feathers where they would be unprotected or unable to fly. Most likely, you will not notice when your dove is molting, but be careful not to damage any blood feathers.
A new feather shaft is filled with blood which is why these are referred to as "blood feathers." If damaged, serious bleeding can occur. The bleeding will have to be controlled and the shaft removed. More information on this is found in the Emergency-Bleeding section.
If you feel a lump on the birds wing, it is likely an ingrown feather. It will get red and inflamed and full of pus when the feather ingrows and starts to abscess. The ingrown feather will have to be removed. It is probably best to let a vet remove the ingrown feather. I have done so myself with hydrogen peroxide and using a sterilized needle to open the top of the lump and sterilized sharp pointed tweezers to lift out the coiled up feather and then remove the entire feather. Afterwards using hydrogen peroxide to clean wound and stop any residual bleeding.
Broken feathers will not regrow until molting season ever two years because the shaft is still in place, but anytime a feather is removed, then the dove will regrow that feather.
Feathers on wings can be cut to reduce flight if the feather is not a blood feather and it is not cut too short. There are more than one schools of thought on how wing feathers should be cut. Some say the long flight feathers, but the doves can still fly without the flight feathers and it makes the dove look awful plus it inhibits some of their language and mating rituals which use wing flicking. Trimming only one wing will not prevent flight, only create a lopsided flight. Others say the feathers in the center of the wing should be cut. This is more correct. These feathers provide lift and if there is not enough feather surface in the center wing feathers. However, doves are not much on flying and prefer to perch most of the time. If you keep them in cages or an aviary and hold them securely in two hands or wrap them in a towel so they cannot fly while you hold them, then there is no need to cut their feathers.
It is important to hold a dove so that both wings are secure. If the dove can shrug or slip a wing or struggle, it can escape. Also, if the dove can shrug its wings which is a typical escape tactic to allow it to slip from the grip of a predator or human, it will also damage the small feathers on the top of the wings. So be sure to hold the dove securely, but without squeezing too tightly and putting pressure on its air sacs under the legs. If the dove is breathing with the mouth open, you are holding it too tight. Use both hands for the best results.
The feet are very important to a bird. They spend their entire life standing on their feet, so it is crucial to take good care of your doves feet. It is normal for the doves legs and feet to look dry. Occasionally, the doves nails may get too long and need to be trimmed, but be sure to just get the tip and not cut nerves or blood vessels which will bleed and hurt the dove. When a dove has babies, you should file the points on each claw slightly with an emery board to round the sharp point of the nail in order to keep the parent from making gashes or tears in the baby's skin which could lead to devastating problems.
For some reason, doves act like their sense of feeling is less on their feet. They don't seem to notice that they have poop stuck on their feet or that they are standing on a hot surface. Occasionally, it may be necessary to wash your dove's feet if they become encrusted with poop. This can dry and become like concrete if permitted to remain and can damage the claws. It may take running warm water over the encrusted toes to soften up the dried poop enough to wash it loose. Be careful not to dislodge the nails. Clean the crusts toward the point of the nail to keep from injuring it.
If the dove is subjected to freezing temperatures, the nails will blacken and may fall off from freezing. Although the blackened nails may not always fall off, they will not regrow and will be short and dull and useless in gripping and balance which they are needed for. Freezing permanently damages the blood supply to the nails and the nails die. Do your doves a favor and provide heat for them. Do not subject them to temperatures below 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a responsibility that you should consider when raising pets.
There are birth defects of the feet that are caused by incest or by not turning the egg enough during incubation which can cause the feet to be webbed or adhered together. See Foot Abnormalities for photos.
Do not have your doves cage accessible to other pets such as cats, dogs, parrots, etc. or children. You are asking for trouble. They can each tear off limbs, maim and kill your doves. Make sure that the cage bars are too small for a cat's paw, too small for the dove to stick out its head between the bars and don't allow parrots and other birds to climb on the doves cage. A parrot will try to lure your dove to the edge of the cage and will wait until it can grab the dove with its hard beak and will sever a leg in an instant. A cat or a dog will also sit and wait for the bird to get near the edge. Buy sturdy cages with narrow spaces between the bars. Keep your cages locked and if necessary, keep the room or aviary locked as well. If a dove loses a foot in an accident, there are methods of making prostheses using bone pin wire and dental plastic materials, but it is best to use heroic efforts to save the limb. Go to a specialist or even more than one avian specialist for multiple opinions to save the doves foot and leg from amputation. It is too easy for a lazy vet who does not want to bother to recommend amputation. You will need to seek multiple opinions as quickly as possible.
I prefer to keep the temperature between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I never allow the temperature to drop below 65 nor rise above 80. See Feather section on this page for dove acclimation to temperatures. For baby doves and sick doves, I have a hospital tank and basking lamps to have the temperature between 78 and 80 degrees. See the ICU section of the Emergency page.
There are too many parasites to list. Some are internal such as worms. external parasites include mites, lice and fleas. I strongly recommend purchasing the book "The complete Bird Owner's Handbook" by Gary A. Gallerstein DVM published by Howell Book house. It has very in-depth, detailed information on parasites and diseases. I recently saw a copy for sale at Petco. Check with your local major pet stores such as Petco or Petsmart. If you cannot find it, check with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble or some other major book store. Owning this book is a must.
For minor parasites such as mites or fleas and even lice, a thorough bath using Johnson's baby shampoo will help remove most of these without any other chemicals. Lather and rinse twice. Making sure to rinse all of the shampoo out of the feathers without damaging them. You can see more info on bathing your dove on the Dove Basics Page. It will also be necessary to clean the parasites from the cage, nests, dishes and perches before returning the bird to its cage. Sterilize the cage with Clorox and thoroughly mop the area.
There are also sprays and powders available for parasites on birds. I try to avoid them as much as possible. Be sure to bathe any new addition to your dove collection before you allow the new bird to mingle with the others.
There are too many diseases to list. I strongly recommend purchasing the book "The complete Bird Owner's Handbook" by Gary A. Gallerstein DVM published by Howell Book house. It has very in-depth, detailed information on parasites and diseases. I recently saw a copy for sale at Petco. Check with your local major pet stores such as Petco or Petsmart. If you cannot find it, check with Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble or some other major book store. Owning this book is a must.
Doves are very loving, family oriented birds. You can see by the photo on the main page of this website, how affectionate doves are with their mates, particularly when they are sitting on the nest. Go to the Mating page for more details. Also the Language page for interaction between couples and the Dove Couple photos page for some nice photos of affectionate couples. It is really cute to watch dove couples and families preen each other and nuzzle. When an egg is near the hatching time, you may see both male and female try to sit in the nest at the same time. It is difficult to tell where one dove ends and the other begins. When their baby first hatches, both parents will sit on the baby at the same time and will also do the same when trying to teach the baby to eat. With a dove couple you will have endless hours of pleasure watching your dove couple and their families. Doves will mate for life and will grieve the loss of a mate. Separating mated doves is very hard on the doves although most people do not realize it. They need to be petted and talked to and held. I have one dove that will fall asleep if you pet his head and under his chin.
Doves crave companionship and will become quite depressed when they are alone. A single pet dove needs a lot of attention from its owner and will bond to the person who feeds and cares for it. If you are not going to be home during the day, you need to provide a companion for your dove. Two males do not usually get along together, however, if there are no females present, two males will start mating and acting like a normal couple. The only difference is that they wont lay any eggs and you will have problems later if you decide to separate them and introduce a female because two males are very possessive of each other. They will also bow and coo for hours. Two females usually get along together, but they, too will start mating and acting like a couple. The only difference is that they will both lay eggs, none fertile, of course. Females wont make all of the bow and cooing sounds that you hear in males.
You can have other pets with your doves, but extra precautions must be taken to ensure you doves safety. The bars of a cage should be narrower than a cats paw so that a cat cannot reach in and snag the bird. A cockatiel cage is usually the right size. If you have a pet capable of knocking over the cage, you need to use a latch hook or lock to keep the doors of the cage from coming open. Some cages have more than one door for feeding and these could come open as well if not secured. See the section on cages. Some pets cannot be trusted and you may need to keep the doves in a separate room with a closed door between the pets especially when you are not home to watch them. Parrots and Macaws can be the most dangerous of all because if they are out of their cage, they could climb on the doves cage and sever the legs of your dove or any other birds, even other parrots. It only takes one bite and even the tamest parrots do not see the fault in chewing on something, even if it is another bird.
There are other pets that are equally dangerous to doves. Snakes are just one of many other pets that can kill a dove.
In an aviary, you will have to make sure that no predators can dig under the dirt or climb into the cage. It does not take a very big opening or any opening if the predator can dig. See the section on aviaries.
As the pet owner, you will need to take precautions to protect your doves from other pets and predators. Doves have no real protection of their own, so often they are easy targets for predators, other pets, hunters, etc.
Doves are the perfect pet to have around children since they are gentle and cannot bite hard enough to hurt. Since doves cannot bite or scream or fight to protect themselves, they are often subjected to abuse. Be sure to take the time to teach a child respect for a pet and be clear on what the rules are. Some children require supervision when handling pets. If you have a young child or a child that may injure the doves, extra precautions must be taken to ensure your dove's safety. A lock on all of the cage doors will offer some level of protection & limit most access to a child but children can still be very creative in administering abuse even through locked access. See the section on cages.
However, it may be necessary to use additional means to protect the dove from harm if its safety is in question. Putting the dove in a locked room will offer the extra security. If the door to the room does not have a secure type of key lock on the door, you can buy a locking door knob at a hardware store which are easy to install if you buy the correct knob that fits the opening and the distance from the edge of the door. Another option is to install a hasp type of lock.
Depending on how much security and protection your doves need, there are always wireless cameras and motion sensors for serious, problematic situations or unexplained pet deaths.
If you have such dangerous problems with a child or adult member of the family; you must make a decision to obtain professional medical or legal assistance for the offender & for your protection. I cannot express the seriousness strongly enough. Nearly all serial killers & mass murderers started by torturing & killing animals in their early childhood before moving on to people. It may be from some deep seated hostilities or inability to feel remorse or compassion for something or someone suffering. Either way, it usually escalates & such cases have been known to progress to injury & death of other family members or neighborhood children or the terrible stories on TV news. Hence, professional assistance shouldn't be delayed.
One of the main causes of lost pets is from taking unnecessary chances. Do not take your pet dove outside for any reason. They should either be in an aviary or a cage and in a pet carrier when transporting it. Never trust a bird not to fly away. Any bird will escape without warning no matter how tame it is. Even if its feathers are trimmed, they can still fly. Instruct your children to never take the pet dove outside. If there is any doubt that the instructions will be followed, a small suitcase lock can be bought for about a dollar at any Walmart which you can use to lock any opening that a child or other pets might be able to gain entry into the cage. Pet carriers cost under $20. Cardboard carriers cost around $5. These can be bought at any pet store or Walmart. Always use a carrier when transporting a pet for any reason. Do not give this responsibility to a child. The carrier and pet should be handled by an adult at any time the pet needs to be transported for any reason.
If a dove is taken outside for any reason without a carrier, it will most certainly get loose regardless how tame and trustworthy the pet is or how well the pet appears to be under control. They have powerful wings & sudden movements & can break loose from the grip of the strongest human adult. It will not likely return once it has escaped and it will die in the heat or cold, get hit by a car, shot at or will starve because it will not have the skills to survive. Pet doves are not equipped to handle fending for themselves. They are helpless in the wild and sitting targets for predators. I did have 2 who escaped the ministrations of a terrible spouse which took 5 years to recapture just one of them.
If you ever tire of a dove, please do not turn it loose. Give it to a good home. Surely some child in the neighborhood would love to have it as a pet. You are not doing them a favor by setting them free. To turn it loose is to condemn it to certain death from predators, starvation, injury or exposure.