A white dove holding a branch of the olive tree and flying free is a familiar symbol for peace. This gentle bird is the domestic ring neck dove (Streptopelia risoria), the most commonly kept dove in captivity. It is a cross with S. decaocto, the wild or Eurasian collard dove, and S. roesogrisea, the central African sub-species. The ring neck is a member of the turtle dove family, designated by a ring around the neck. A favorite pet bird for about 2,000 years, ring necks were initially used as sacrifices for religious occasions, then later adopted as pets. They are the doves of the Bible.
There are over 300 different species of doves that inhabit nearly every corner of the world. Doves are often called pigeons and pigeons are often called doves. Actually, there is no real defined division between the two in the wild. Perhaps the most common difference, if there is one, is that the larger birds are called pigeons and the smaller ones are called doves.
Personality and Appearance
Ring neck doves are placid, social birds, and they make excellent pets. They do not sing, but the gentle cooing of the male is neither too loud nor too soft, and can be rather soothing.
Ring necks are fun to watch. They are active and amusing, but not demanding. Once they trust you, which takes only a few weeks, you can slip dry pine needles through the wire and the male will take it from your fingers to carry to the nest. Some doves will sit quietly on your hand or finger or your shoulder.
Be careful when mixing varieties, as all breeds do not get along. Social doves prefer to be kept in a colony setting. If breeding is not desired females can be kept together without difficulty, but males housed together usually fight.
Ring neck doves are about 12 inches from tail to head. Until 1960, only two colors were available, white and fawn, but thanks to many dedicated breeders, over 40 acknowledged color mutations/combinations have been developed. Some of these include peach, peach pied, orange pearled, cream, orange chimmoy and pink pearled, to name just a few.
Doves do not climb, as do parrots and cockatiels, so their only exercise comes from flying back and forth. In choosing a cage, length is more important than width. Ideally, the cage should measure at least 36 inches by 14 inches by 10 inches. Just make sure the bars are close enough together so the birds cannot stick their heads out of the cage. They can get stuck and seriously injure themselves.
Perches are an essential part of the cage and a variety of sizes, shapes and diameters will help exercise the birds feet and toes. Place perches strategically to prevent droppings from contaminating water and food dishes and to prevent the tail from hanging in dishes or on the floor. Toys, such as bells and mirrors, in the dove’s cage will keep your bird entertained. Always have a cuttlebone to supply your dove with calcium and prevent beak overgrowth. Place your dove’s cage at eye-level in a bright area free from drafts and direct sunlight.
Ring neck doves are seed eaters. However, unlike most birds, they do not husk the seeds before eating them; they swallow them whole. They do well on a diet of fresh fortified finch seed, parakeet seed or pellet daily. Doves only eat off the top of what is offered, so be sure to check the food daily. Besides a variety of seed mix or pellets, offer chopped dark green and yellow vegetables and a variety of fresh fruits in addition to a protein source like mature legumes, hard cooked chopped egg, and grated cheese. Remove fresh fruits and vegetables within two hours of offering to prevent spoilage. Millet spray also makes an excellent supplement for doves, and powdered vitamins can be lightly sprinkled on the fresh food.
Doves need access to clean water all of the time, because they will dehydrate easily, and this is a dangerous condition. Change the water often or buy an inexpensive automatic watering device available at most pet stores. However, check these daily to see that they are not contaminated with droppings. Wash and rinse their water cup out thoroughly prior to adding fresh water to reduce bacteria growth.
Because doves swallow their seeds whole, they require grit to help digest their food and to provide minerals. Seeds go to the bird’s crop, or gizzard, and with the help of the sand and gravel in the grit, the seeds are ground into a digestible mash. Grit also contains calcium and trace minerals to ensure that the diet is balanced.
The breeding ritual for ring necks is quite interesting. Males make a long drawn-out sound called a coo, which generally takes place in three phases of the courtship. First, he sits on the perch and coos to let the other doves know that he is looking for a mate. Then he coos when he has spotted the female he fancies to get her interested, too. This second coo is a bow-coo; he makes the same sound as the first coo, but he bows rhythmically before the female as though he is worshipping her. Finally, once the female is interested, he climbs into the nest and coos again, but this time he remains in a permanent bow. He also flutters his wings very lightly to let her know he has found a suitable nesting sight.
The nest appears to be a flimsy structure with just a few twigs thrown together. However, in the wild, they are quite able to withstand any weather. You can help your doves by placing nesting boxes in the cage for them to build their nests in. These can be anything from a wooden box to an old Tupperware dish.
When a pair of doves are placed together, it takes a few weeks to a few months for them to begin the breeding cycle. They do well breeding in a relatively small cage. Copulation takes place sometime between the bow coo and wing fluttering, then it takes about a week for the eggs to develop.
Ring necks lay two eggs and both parents take turns sitting on the eggs – usually the female at night and the male during the day. Eggs hatch after 14 days, and the squabs are fed “crop milk,” which is produced in the crop of the parents. The young put their beaks inside the parents throat and drink it from there. Within a few days, the parents add seed to the diet, and in three to four weeks the young are ready to leave the nest.
Doves mate for life, until one of the partners dies. Then the survivor seeks another mate.
Doves are not typically a bird that can be handled; holding a dove by the wings can result in broken wings. If you must hold your dove, control the wings by covering them with your hands with the dove facing you.
Doves should bathe at least weekly, so provide a suitable size birdbath in the cage. They also need lots of warmth from sunshine, so keep their cage in a location that will allow them three to four hours of indirect sun daily. During rainy weather or when the temperature drops, you may want to keep your birds warm by either covering up their cages, or by using either a 40 watt lamp or Ultraviolet lamp to heat up the cages.
Common Diseases and Disorders
Doves are relatively healthy birds but they are susceptible to the following: