Tending Doves: Peace for Your Home

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In many cultures and religions, doves are symbolic of love, peace and spirit. They are considered representative of motherhood due to their unique ability to produce milk to nurture their young.

The soft vocalizations and calm behavior of doves make some species, particularly ring-necked doves and diamond doves, excellent avian companions for the home. Since a ring-necked dove can live for up to 15 years and a diamond dove up to 12, they will be expressive pets, accepting all the attention their humans can lavish.

Ring-necked doves are about the size of the wild mourning dove, about 11 inches long. They’re known to be faithful to their mates for years, and should be provided nesting space and materials, as they can be quite prolific, laying two eggs at a time, up to eight times per year. A feather mutation of the ring-necked dove is called “silky;” it produces a beautiful dove with lacy feathers and the inability to fly far, making them wonderful indoor pets. They may be timid in nature, but will grow to recognize an attentive owner.

Diamond doves are similar in size to a canary or budgie, about seven and a half inches in length. This petite avian has a brown body; the eyes of the adult bird are set off by an orange ring. A mating pair lays two white eggs that are incubated by both birds up to 14 days. In larger enclosures, diamond doves can be kept with other small, peaceful birds.

Additions to your household will need a cage or aviary, unless you plan to allow them free flight in your home. An outdoor aviary, a large open cage that will permit flight and nesting, can be attached to a wall of the house that catches the sun. A smaller, covered cage can be attached to the larger one, and will provide warmth and shelter. Have a waterproof cover for the aviary roof in case of bad weather. It should have a wood or cement floor and a contain a separate perch for each bird.

If an aviary isn’t practical, a wooden or plastic cage a minimum of two feet tall, three feet wide and two feet deep can house the birds. Place a nesting perch on one end and a perch on the opposite end to encourage flight between the perches. Locate the cage where they can see and hear you coming, as the birds can easily be startled. Since doves can’t benefit from natural light through glass, consider adding full-spectrum lights on timers, which will give them a routine and help manage their reproduction.

Doves love to bathe, and will jump into a pan of water in the cage to play. Remove the pan afterward, as they might try to drink the dirty water.

If you’re bringing doves into your home for the first time, find out what they have been eating and continue it to reduce the stress of changing homes. If you plan to change their diet, do it gradually. A variety of balanced, all-inclusive pelleted foods have been developed specifically for seed-eating birds; diamond doves require a smaller pellet size than the ring-necked doves.

Another option is to provide natural seeds, and some owners like to provide soft food as treats. Doves enjoy rice, multi-grain bread, mealworms, lettuce, cabbage, chopped fresh vegetables and hard-boiled eggs, crushed shell and all. Fresh water must be provided at all times. Check with your avian veterinarian for her advice on feeding as well.

The secret to keeping doves healthy is to have their environment spotlessly clean at all times. The floor of the cage should be sanded, but in damp weather, when the sand absorbs moisture, hay or straw can be substituted.

Doves can be messy, too. They molt and lose their feathers, requiring weekly cage cleaning. They will throw or toss their seeds to find their favorites. Choose feeding containers that inhibit this behavior, and you’ll be a happier keeper. Water sources should also be covered to reduce contamination from above.

If you have a breeding pair, pay attention to gestation. Fledglings should be removed from the cage when they are able to look after themselves. Any unhatched or infertile eggs must be removed as well; fertile eggs are opaque and infertile eggs are transparent.

Doves are talkative; their constant cooing can express their personalities and moods. If you want to develop an affectionate relationship, feed them at specific morning and evening times, and they will wait for you eagerly.

Have you ever seen a dove release at a wedding, anniversary or life celebration? These are not doves; the birds we’re discussing would fare poorly in the wild. These are white homing pigeons, also known as rock pigeons, which can find their way home up to 600 miles away. ■

Sources: chestofbooks.com, diamonddove.info, petcha.com and slate.com.