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Written by Candice Patrick Madison (Tennessee)
Originally published in The NFSS Bulletin, Vol. 13 No. 6. November – December 1996

Trying to raise doves (or any birds for that matter) in an apartment offers a few unique challenges. One has neighbours to think about, pet fees, is the manager going to tolerate several birds in a bedroom (or wherever the place is you decide to breed your birds), cleanliness and the list goes on. I have found square, stackable cages to work best. The walls and carpet are covered with white trash bags (black shows up the feather dust really well!) and the bottom cages are covered part way up the cage in the plastic. This keeps seed and feathers in and makes vacuuming a breeze. Also the plastic is easy to wipe down periodically. Another thing I have done so that the air is cleaner, is to buy a small purifier/ionizer. It works great. A humidifier in the room helps, especially during the “winter breeding season”, since doves can breed yaer round.

While the cages may not be real “showy”, they are very functional the way I have them. It took some trial and error to know where to place the cages and what kind to get. I found that the kind with a slide out plastic tray work great. The whole cage fits nicely in the bathtub anytime I want to clean it. An old toothbrush works great at getting in any crevices.

When I got my first “big” cage, it was perfect for my doves. Generally they require a cage that is at least 2’x2’x2’. A dove should be able to flap its wings and not touch anything in the cage. One round perch at one level and a square type perch at another level is ideal for a dove’s feet. For my silkies (which do not fly) I place a perch at a very low level.

There are three types of Ringneck Doves – normal, silky, and crested. Most everyone has seen the normal. The silky doves have “fluffy” feathers and a sideboard on each wing. The barbs on the feathers are not hooked together like a normal bird, thus the birds cannot fly as air passes right through their feathers.

The crested come from Asia and are rarely seen in the U.S. One always breeds a silky to a normal. If you breed a silky to a silky, you will end up with birds that are too silky and their feathers can look a mess. Breeding a silky to a normal will result in the babies being both normal or one being a silky and one being a normal or both being silkies.

Silkies are wonderful pets. They are normally gentle birds to begin with and there is really no training to teach them to be finger tame.

I had set my goal last year to raise a really good show bird. That was really all I wanted. I tried to find the best conformed birds that I could get and breed them with my two silkies (Snowfire’s Top Flight and Snowfire’s Sweetie Pie) while keeping my fingers crossed. I wanted a winner.

A friend of mine had a nice wild pied hen (Snowfire’s Pretty Delight) that I bred to Snowfire’s Top Flight. They produced five babies. Only one placed third. The other 4 were all winners, with two being Best in Class Winners and one, Snowfire’s Iroquois, becoming the Champion Best Silky and Best Marked Silky at the 1994 National Young Bird Show! Because SF Pretty Delight was unbanded, I decided to sell her before I realized her potential. I know better now.

Top Flight was found dead when I came home from work one day. It was suspected he had a heart attack. I was just sick. This was a good show bird. I still had Sweetie Pie though. She has produced 9 babies with 5 to show and one winner. A friend from Ohio sold me a cock bird I named Snowfire’s Sparkler (it was hatched on the fourth of July). He was a pretty bird but a bit too rowdy with my hens so he was sold. But he did go on to sire 4 babies before he left. One was a show winner and two others placed 2nd at the shows.

Around June I stopped all my breeding and started getting my birds ready for their first show, which would be held in the fall. Every other day I dunked my birds in a sink of warm water, being VERY careful not to loose any feathers. I lost a few but nothing major. The birds got used to being handled and soon did not mind getting wet. It was like they knew what was coming their way every time I went into the bird room. I had thought about spraying the birds, but in the past found that the walls or carpet or something, which should be dry, ends up getting wet. I don’t need mould growing in the bird room.

Doves have the ability to loose their feathers practically on contact if frightened. This is a protective method they have to escape predators. Another thing I did was putting the birds in different cages. I had small “finch” type breeding cages as well as budgie show cages. The birds learn to stand quietly in a small cage for prolonged periods of time. At the show, the judge can always tell which bird has not been “small cage trained”. That bird is going back and forth in the cage and sometimes tries to fly up the side of the cage. I start with my baby birds and soon they are just as calm in a large flight as they are in a cage in which they can hardly turn around. Start with babies and periodically put them in a small cage. Soon, no cage will bother them.

One very important thing in getting birds ready for a show is nutrition. Many people are surprised to learn that there really is “dove food”. Companies such as Kaytee, Brooks, Sun, Hagen and others all carry dove seed. In addition to seed, I also feed vegetables. They can include boiled rice, boiled corn on the cob, cooked split peas, boiled egg with crunched up eggshell (an excellent source of calcium carbonate), sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, chopped up carrots, lettuce, and an occasional mealworm. I have learned to – ah – chop the mealworms up a little so they won’t propagate indoors! It is no picnic to find a couple in the closet roaming around.

People often ask me if they should feed grit. It sort of depends on the diet. I occasionally give my doves “dove grit” (also known as dove gravel). Grit can help break up those hard to digest seeds that doves sometimes eat. Many breeders have never fed grit and have had no ill effects. I tell new dove owners that if they choose to feed grit, feed it in a separate container and do not mix it with the seed or sprinkle it on the ground where the birds can soil it. Above all do NOT feed grit made for parakeets or very small birds. This very small sand-like grit can stay in a doves crop for weeks. I know, first hand. I obtained a pair of doves that had been fed “parakeet grit”. Of course I did not feed them any grit at all until all the parakeet grit had passed from their systems. One could see it in the droppings. It took 2 ½ months before the birds were free of grit. The dove grit is grey in colour and larger than the parakeet grit.

Often times I take one or two of my silkies outside and we go for a “walk”. The neighbourhood kids just love to pet them and it gives the birds time in the sun as well as getting used to being around all kinds of people. I have one simple rule. Before anyone can pet the birds, hands must be washed with soap and water. The kids now know the rule and tell the newer ones in the neighbourhood. If nothing else, it is sorta surprising to see these kids enforce the rule.

If you decide to breed doves, try to breed the best to the best (and hope for the best). Cull out the ones that don’t suit your fancy but hold on to the ones that may have some potential. That may be your future show winner!

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Last updated: February 12, 2006