|Click on any photo to enlarge|
There is nothing cuter than watching a dove doing the Watusi while constructing a new nest. To form the nest materials into the shape of the dove's body, the dove stands in the middle of the nest, wiggling their behind rapidly like a Tahitian dancer, while turning in a circle.
Although doves are terrible nest builders, they work vigorously to bring just the right selection of sticks for their nest. The actual nest ends up looking like a jumble of sticks. It is a wonder that the nest holds together, and often it doesn't. Sticks constantly fall out and it is not uncommon for the eggs or babies to fall out. Out in the wild, they chose a fork in a tree branch to place their nest. It is not unusual to see the dove nests on the lowest branches of the trees. Some low enough to touch from the ground, perhaps to lessen the fall of the fledglings who are chased from the nest often at 2 weeks of age before they can fly; to make room for the next brood.
Eggs and babies are often lost to a slight breeze or rain storm and is a major contributor to their high mortality rate. According to the US Fish and Game and the Wildlife management institute, the mortality rate for doves in the wild is more than 58% per year for adults and 69% for juveniles. Life span in the wild is 1 year for immatures and 1.5 years for adults. This is pretty sad since doves lifespan in captivity can exceed 20 years. This is indicative of hunting which is responsible for 90% of the deaths and the remaining 10% due to poisons, predators and disease. Talk about murdering a species into extinction! This is the same thing that happened to the now extinct Passenger Pigeon.
For my doves, I purchase a plastic bird bathing bowl from a pet store chain which fastens onto the side of the cage. I also purchase a woven grass nest which fits perfectly into the bowl. Since the woven nest tends to shift, I use inch wide double sided sticky tape underneath the woven nest to hold it in place in the plastic bowl.
There is also a method of creating an inexpensive nest from cardboard and clothes pins which is described on another dove website on this page:
You can see the nest in use at: Dr Wilmer Miller's Dove page
Whichever type of nest you chose, it must be large enough for the dove to sit in and large enough to hold 2 eggs which are each about 2/3 the size of a golf ball. You want to insure that the eggs wont roll out and that the rapidly growing babies will have room enough not to fall out.
In placing the nest, I previously had the nests located in the corner of the cages, but the doves had to jack their tails high against the side of the cage in order to sit on the nest. It left only two of the 4 sides clear for their tail, so I now place the nests in the center of the rear cage wall giving them three clear sides.
It is important to have the top of the nest at the same height as the perch. If it is higher, it will interfere with mating. A male dove needs the entire area above the perch free of any objects that might obstruct his ability to flap his wings sufficiently to mount and maintain his balance while mating his companion. Additionally, Doves will instinctively perch on the highest object that will support them in the cage. If the nest is higher than the perch, the Doves will perch on the edge and defecate into the nest. However, I would not recommend placing the nest lower than the perch. It would make maneuvering difficult for the doves.
When the male is ready to raise a family, he will climb onto the nest, tilt his head down onto the nest with his tail slanted high up in the air and make a calling coo while flicking his wings which make a sound like rasping nail files together. He will continue to call and flick his wings to entice the female to sit in the nest. If she fails to comply, he may jump back and forth from the nest to the perch where the female is sitting to encourage her to check out the nest. This behavior, plus the normal mating rituals will continue for days until the female sits in the nest. As the female nears egg gestation, she will start billing the male more often and more assertively. A couple days before she lays the eggs, she will start sitting in the nest. If the male does not begin bringing sticks for the nest, the female will sit in the nest, flick her wings and make a higher pitch and shortened coo several times to instruct the male to get started with his task. If the male is not provided with nest materials when the female is in the nest flicking wings and calling for him to find twigs, he will get very frustrated. He may jump back and forth between the bottom of the cage and the perch or edge of the nest. He may stand on the bottom cooing. He usually will pace back and forth from the cage bottom, perch or nest and may become so frustrated by the female calling for nest materials that he cannot obtain, that he might drive the female from the nest or chase her to the bottom of the cage where she can see for herself. He may continue to beat up on the female until he is provided with the proper materials.
I provide the same size of twigs which the wild mourning doves use for their nests. 4 - 5 inches long and no thicker that a ball point pen refill. They particularly like the thin sticks. Doves do not have hard bills and cannot break the sticks. If the sticks are too thick he will not use them. I find the best twigs near the bushes.
Place the sticks at the bottom of the cage when you see the female in the nest flicking her wings. Do not place the twigs directly below the nest, because sticks in that area are considered rejects by the male and he will assume that the female dropped them there. I place the twigs toward the front of the cage and away from where the doves defecate. If you have a grate on the bottom of the cage, place the sticks perpendicular to the grate slots so the sticks will not fall under the grate.
I also buy a small bag of straw in the ferret or rabbit section of the pet store and put some of that on the bottom of the cage which the doves will add to the the nest as the soft layer. There is also a string type nest material that you can purchase at some pet stores, or it can be made by cutting up a cotton rope such at the dog tug ropes for nest filler. You can place the soft materials in the center of the nest after the sticks are added. It is very important to have a soft layer to prevent the eggs from breaking or chipping and to have a layer for the hatchlings. In the wild, I have seen straw, grasses and dead leaves for the soft layer.
The soft layer will get dirty quickly once the babies hatch and will have to be changed frequently.
If you are in an area where there are pine trees, try placing pine needles in the cage or nest for the soft layer. Leaves from non-poisonous trees might also be tried. Cotton balls are another material that can be used for a soft layer.
Important things to remember:
Be sure that the nest materials are not contaminated by pesticides, herbicides, feces, insects, mites, poisons, bacteria or from a poisonous plant. Keep the nest clean. Bacteria will kill a baby. We soak our nests in Clorox water in between sittings, including the twigs and then dry them in the sun.
The male will begin to fetch the twigs and carry them up to the female while she is sitting in the nest. This is how they shape the nest. The male prefers to stand on the female's back while placing the twig, but not every time. I also have a cotton rope perch for him to jump up on when placing the twig in the nest. Often the female will grab onto the twig and insist on helping him place the stick. This tug of war often ends with the stick falling back to the bottom of the cage. and he will return for more. The doves will continue to add twigs to their nest even after the eggs are laid. I have also seen the male sitting in the nest on eggs and the female fetching twigs but that typically occurs after the eggs are laid and during his daytime shift on the nest.
If the male does not bring her twigs when she has been in the nest flicking her wings and calling, try passing the twigs to her or placing some in the nest.
If there are too many sticks and the eggs are not resting safely in the nest, you may have to remove some of the twigs to keep the eggs from rolling out. The doves will easily knock the eggs out of the nest, especially when changing places, so you will need to be sure that the eggs cannot roll out of the nest by readjusting the sticks or other materials to make a recess in the center.
Doves are very tolerant of interference by humans. If I place a handful of straw on the nest, they will stamp down the straw and rearrange it to their liking. After the soft layer is arranged, make sure that the center of the nest is recessed so the eggs will not roll out.
Wild Mourning Dove nest