Care and feeding Tip # 2.
Personal Hygiene: The personal hygiene of doves and pigeons includes a
bath followed by sunning and preening themselves. Some like to bathe
while others prefer a shower, and then there are some who like a dust
bath. A shower can be accomplished with either a hand held sprayer or a
hose with a fine spray head and lukewarm water. Wing clipping is not
necessary and is not recommended for doves and pigeons. Unlike the
parrot families, these birds cannot climb to safety and depend on
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Nutrition Tip #2.
In the wild doves
and pigeons feed on seeds, berries, fruits, green leaves and shoots,
spiders and other insects. The birds we are describing here are the seed
eaters in the subfamily Columbinae.
The fruit eaters
are in the subfamily Treroninae, but are not often seen in captivity
probably because feeding them is much more difficult. The seed eaters
fall into three categories; those that feed only in trees and shrubs,
those that are ground feeders, and those that feed in both places. Fresh
water must be provided every day. Doves and pigeons drink water by
sucking it up and swallowing it rather than throwing their heads back
like other birds do. One of the best ways to provide water, and to keep
the birds from soiling it, is to use a so-called 'automatic' waterer, an
upside down container that feeds into a tray type base. Foods available
for doves and pigeons include seed only diets, formulated diets that are
either pelleted or extruded, and commercial mixes generally consisting
of seed, cereal, and legumes. The commercial mixes and the seed only
diets require supplements for complete nutrition. Though formulated
diets offer the same nutrients as commercial mixes as well as the
necessary vitamins and minerals, they have been found to cause loose
stools. This is probably because of the addition of molasses, but
because of this problem they are not widely used today. A dove and
pigeon diet consisting of a basic commercial mix supplemented with
greens rich in minerals is generally regarded as suitable. Greens can
include such things as lettuce, endive, chickweed, clover, watercress,
and spinach. Some fruits are berries, apple, and pear. For smaller doves
and pigeons you can use a budgie or canary mix. The smaller birds will
also enjoy millet spray. Because they eat seeds whole doves and pigeons
need grit and gravel. The little stones and the grit help grind up
harder seed in the gizzard. Vitamins can be added to the water or
sprinkled on food in a dry form about once a week. Offer calcium in the
form of crushed oyster shell, grit, and even cuttlebone for the small
birds. Some folks like to occasionally offer game bird crumbles, water
soaked dog biscuits, and water or milk soaked bread as well.
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In all cases the size of the dove or pigeon determines the size of its
home, they must be able to flap their wings without hitting the sides.
Small birds such as the Diamond dove can be housed in a cage. The medium
and larger sized birds will do much better in an aviary. Birds that are
allowed free flight will need a dovecote. Unlike the larger birds, many
of the small doves have very poor homing instincts and will not do well
if released outside. They are not good candidates for free flight
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a rectangular cage is better than a square one and the bar spacing must
be small enough that the bird cannot get its head through. Because many
of these birds spend a good deal of time on the ground, a wire bottom
cage should have part of it covered with paper or even grassy sod. They
also prefer a partially enclosed or box-type cage for a sense of
security. Keep the cage in a bright draft-free area but not in direct
sun. Normal room temperatures are fine with humidity at 50-70%.
people wish to cover the cage at night. This is not necessary unless the
cage will be in an area where the lights will be turned on and off at
night. A cover in this case can help keep the bird from getting
Aviary: An outdoor or breeding aviary needs to have a
protected shelter that can be heated and cooled where necessary.
Orienting the aviary to the south or southwest helps as these birds need
good daylight and will avoid dark areas.
The shelter should be taller than the flight area as
many of these birds will seek out the highest place to roost for the
night. A good shelter size is about 6' (2 m) square and 8' (2.5 m) high.
Provide a flat shelf mounted as high as possible for roosting and for
nest building, as well as some regular perches or natural branches.
Provide some nest boxes for those birds that prefer an enclosed nest. A
platform with a rim, mounted about 3' above the ground, is a good place
for food and water.
The flight area is a good place to provide a shallow
pool for bathing and will need perches. You can provide nesting boxes in
the flight if you locate them in areas where there are trees and bushes
close by so the birds get a sense of security. Leave plenty of room for
flying. Flight areas for small birds can be about 6' (2 m) long, 3' (1
m) wide, and 6' (2 m) high. For medium size birds it can be about 9' (3
m) long, 6' (2 m) wide, and 6' (2 m) high. For the large birds it can be
15' (5 m) long, 6' (2 m) wide, and 6' (2 m) high.
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flight birds will need a dovecote. For many years doves and pigeons have
been allowed free flight. 'Dovecotes' or 'pigeon lofts' were included as
an integral part of many buildings throughout Europe. Originally these
were built for utility purposes and later became more ornamental. There
are many examples of these still today. This is a natural way to keep
these birds as many have a homing instinct and will return to the
dovecote each evening. If you wish to provide your birds with free
flight, probably the most important thing to consider is safety. Free
flight birds can be at risk from a variety of predators. Birds that are
not use to free flying are especially at risk.
Free flyers must first be accustomed to their home
before allowing them to fly. If they are new to the dovecot, you can put
a mesh cover around it until they become familiar with their
accommodations. Once they know their home and where their food is they
will return in the evening. It is recommended that you feed them
sparingly in the morning, providing the bulk of their feed in the
evening to encourage them to return.
The larger birds are ideal for free flight, especially
the acrobatic flyers. They enjoy it and it is good for their health. For
a small number of birds a wallcote is probably the most practical. Built
against the side of the house, preferably facing south or southwest, a
wallcote is a waterproof shelter consisting of compartments and a porch
or landing board. The compartment size is dependent on the the type of
bird. For a medium sized pair of birds a compartment can be about 26"
(67 cm) wide, 18" - 20" (46 - 51 cm) deep, and 16" (41 cm) high with an
entrance that is about 5" - 6" (13 - 15 cm). The landing board can be
about 8" (20 cm) wide and can also serve as a place to put heavy crocks
for food and water. You can add more compartments as the number of birds
Another type of dovecote is the polecote. This is a shelter and landing
platform mounted on a free standing pole. This type of cote is often
more decorative than practical however. An aviary that is opened up and
allows for free flight is sometimes referred to as a garden cote.
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The basic cage care includes daily cleaning of the
water and food dishes and bathing bowls. Weekly you should wash all the
perches and platforms. Periodically disinfect the entire cage and
accessories with a mild bleach solution. A total hosing down and
disinfecting of an aviary should be done yearly, replacing anything that
needs to be freshened such as old dishes, nests, and perches.
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In the wild all doves and pigeons are known to flock,
some do it only seasonally while others flock year round. Most species
will live together peaceable if they are given plenty of room. In too
small an area they can be very aggressive as well as during breeding
season. All doves and pigeons can be somewhat territorial, and there are
some species that are extremely so and very aggressive. Be sure to
research the behaviors of the birds you want before putting them
together with others.
Be very careful about adding a new bird to a cage with
existing birds. Most doves and pigeons are territorial by nature. They
may be protective of their space and will not appreciate a new roommate,
possibly even killing the newcomer.
Many species can be house with other birds in an
aviary, such as finches and parakeets, but aggressive species should be
housed separately. Doves and pigeons do not mix well with cats, nor do
they do well with dogs.
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Young birds that are raised in an aviary can become
very affectionate once they get used to their home and their family.
This is the ideal pet as it will become quite tame and devoted while
wild doves and pigeons generally remain cautious and on their guard. The
wild birds will be shy and reserved and will seldom become overly
When you first bring your bird home, give it about a
week or so with very little disturbance and don't let it out of its
cage. There is much for it to become familiar with just being in its
cage. Give it a chance to know you and get comfortable. After it is
comfortable with you and its accommodations, then you can let it out to
start exploring the rest of the home. Doves and pigeons enjoy time out
of the cage daily. A pet dove can become very people oriented.
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Most doves and pigeons are seed eaters and thus ground dwellers. They
like to walk around and will roost higher up. Some are free flyers that
like to travel around. All these birds will need flight space. If you
keep your bird in a cage they will need time out everyday to fly or walk
When resting, doves an pigeons do not tuck their head under a wing like
many birds do, rather they hunch down pulling their head between the
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