Doves & Pigeons
This care sheet outlines basic care instructions for all species of pigeons and doves. It is recommended that extra research be done for the particular species that you will be acquiring. Pigeons and doves are most commonly kept in lofts, but for our application as house pets, we will outline care for an inside bird in a cage. Also, if you tire of caring for your pet, find a good replacement home. DO NOT release your pet into the wild. This is not a wild bird and will NOT be able to survive outside as those who were raised in the wild can.
Pigeons and doves are found all over the world, with the exception of the high Arctic, Antarctica, and some extremely arid desert regions.
The words pigeon and dove are often used interchangeably; the birds are very similar animals. However, ornithologists choose to call the larger birds pigeons, and the smaller ones, doves.
At least ten Columba species have become extinct due to the actions of humans, including the dodo bird of Mauritius. Human introduction of predator species (cats, rats, and other mammals) to some islands that were once rich with Columba species were one cause of population decreases. Another reason is the destruction of natural habitat. Columba have been used in history to perform such important tasks as delivering the name of the winner of the Olympics, delivering word of incoming invading troops in early wars, delivering news in Europe by Reuter’s News Agency founder Paul Reuter, and carrying tiny cameras and delivering messages for the U.S. and the U.K. during World Wars I and II.
AVERAGE ADULT SIZE:
7 ½ inches to 12 inches and 140 to 215 grams. 160 grams for females and 180 grams for males are typical.
AGE OF SEXUAL MATURITY:
MALE OR FEMALE?:
Doves and pigeons are not sexually dimorphic, which means males and females are not visually different. Experienced dove and pigeon keepers can often distinguish certain male or female specific behaviors or vocalizations. A proper DNA test by a qualified avian veterinarian can tell you whether your pet is a boy or girl.
Pigeons and doves have smooth, stout bodies with short necks and small heads. The wings and tail are long and broad. The bill is short, and is not sharp. Most pigeon and doves have small eyes surrounded by an area of bare skin. Pigeons and doves are passerines; this means their feet have the pattern of three toes forward and one toe back. North American pigeon and dove species are basically tan, cream or gray in color. However, many tropical species have more brightly colored feathers.
SIGNS OF A HEALTHY BIRD:
A healthy bird should be perky, active and alert with bright clear eyes, cere and “nares” (nostrils). You should observe your pigeon or dove eating and drinking throughout the day, although this activity is most apparent in the morning and early evening or when you are eating. Feathers should be neat and well groomed. Feet and legs should be smooth and free of bumps and rough scales. A healthy dove or pigeon should be bright and happy!
NORMAL BEHAVIOR AND INTERACTION:
Birds are flock-oriented animals, and they do very well with other birds in the home to communicate with. However, YOU as the caretaker become a flock member as well. Daily attention and interaction is extremely important for your bird.
Pigeons and doves do best when kept singly or with a partner, male or female. Do not house other bird species in the same enclosure as your dove or pigeon. The Columba beak is not designed to help them protect themselves and an aggressive cage mate can easily injure them. Doves and pigeons are intelligent, sweet, family birds. They will get along wonderfully in a home with a large family or just a single owner whether they are a single bird or a pair.
A high quality dove & pigeon feed with 14% to 18% protein and at least 4% fat is best. Since you will be caring for only one or two Columba, it will not be a problem to choose the higher quality feed. Keepers that house large groups have a harder time paying for the higher quality feed with the higher nutritional balance. Your bird should also be offered fresh vegetables (especially leafy greens), fruit and grain daily. Please see our sheet that outlines the fresh foods your pet will appreciate. Be sure to chop up your fresh fruits & vegetables well for you Columba. A millet spray clipped to the side of the cage is a fabulous treat.
The only supplement that should be necessary if you are feeding your dove or pigeon properly is calcium grit. Calcium grit can be offered in a small dish in the form of oyster shell grit or pigeon/dove grit. Be sure it has beneficial calcium as an ingredient. Do NOT toss the grit on the floor of the cage. Your bird may mistakenly pick up feces along with the grit, which can cause illness. Place it in a small bowl inside the cage.
Fresh water must be available to your bird at all times. It must be checked several times a day. It is recommended that the bowl be wiped clean with a paper towel at every change to prevent a slimy film from collecting on the inside of the bowl. This ‘slime’ will harbor bacteria, which can be dangerous for your bird. Doves and pigeons drink their water by sucking it up into their beaks, unlike other birds that lap their water. Therefore it is important that their water bowls allow them to submerge at least 50% of their beaks.
All water given to birds for drinking, as well as water used for misting, soaking or bathing must be 100% free of chlorine and heavy metals. (Not all home water filtration systems remove 100% of the chlorine and heavy metals from tap water). We recommend that you use unflavored bottled drinking water or bottled natural spring water; never use untreated tap water. If tap water is used, you should treat it with a de-chlorinating treatment. Do not use distilled water, which can cause severe medical problems, since it lacks minerals that are essential to important body functions. If only tap water can be used, at least de-chlorinate the water. De-chlorinator is available in the pet store fish department.
HOUSING & ENVIRONMENT:
Doves and pigeons need a clean, warm, roomy cage where they can spread their wings and stretch out. They spend the majority of their time on low perches or on the ground.
A single bird or a pair should have a cage no smaller than 24 by 24 by 30 inches. The basic rule of thumb is the bigger the better!
The spacing between the bars of the cage should be no wider than ¾” to 1” wide. If the bars are too far apart, your crafty bird is very likely to try to squeeze through them and get stuck. The cage should be placed in a family centered room where the bird(s) will feel a part of the “flock”; however the back of the cage should be positioned against a wall to provide security. Your dove or pigeon will feel threatened and nervous if it is in direct traffic. Avoid drafty areas and any placement that will get too much direct sun for any portion of the day. If your bird spends time out of his cage, make sure that any ceiling fans are off while he is out. Do not place your bird’s cage in the kitchen, as cooking fumes and even a small amount of smoke can be fatal. Average room temperature will be fine for your bird, not to exceed 80 degrees. Be careful of drafts from air conditioning, especially when bathing and misting. Perches of varying materials and types should be included in the cage. We recommend having at least three different types. Having different types will exercise the feet and prevent sores and foot related health issues. A flat perch should also be included in the cage. These small wooden “platforms” are often available for chinchilla or ferret cages. See the recommended supplies section. At least four clean dishes should be ready for use: one for fresh water, one for food, one for fresh foods and a tiny (half dollar size) one for clean grit. Pigeons and doves prefer light colored dishes. Your bird will most likely appreciate a cage cover for nighttime. The cover can block out any extraneous light and create a more secure sleeping place.
- DO NOT USE SANDPAPER COVERED PERCHES OR FLOOR PAPER. THESE PRODUCTS ARE DANGEROUS AND CAN CAUSE SEVERE DAMAGE TO YOUR BIRD’S FEET.
- ALSO, DO NOT USE “BIRD DISKS” or “MITE DISKS”. THESE ARE NOT EFFECTIVE AND MAY HARM YOUR BIRD. SEE YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IF YOU SUSPECT PARASITES.
- CORN COB BEDDING CAN QUICKLY BREED MOLD AND MILDEW, WHICH IS DANGEROUS TO YOUR BIRD. BIRDS CAN ALSO BECOME IMPACTED FROM SWALLOWING CORN COB BEDDING.
In the wild, birds spend most of their day from morning until night foraging for their food. In our homes in a cage, their food is right at their beaks, no need to go hunting. Because of this, it is very easy for our pet birds to become bored and lazy. It will be very beneficial to your pigeon or dove to be allowed supervised out of cage time at least once a week to fly a bit. Be sure to clear any dangers away and keep curtains closed so your pet does not run into windows. Other pets such as cats and dogs should be removed from the room. They enjoy stretching their wings and flapping. Also, take some time to hold your bird, talk to it and pet it gently for at least a half hour a day. They also enjoy time in sunshine. Your pet pigeon or dove will stretch his wings out and hold them to the side as a sun-catcher.
BATHING: Be sure to offer your bird a very shallow dish (2-3 inches deep) for bathing at least two times a week. Doves and pigeons prefer warmer water, at least 75 degrees or more. Bathing is very essential to their good health. While they are drying from their bath, be sure to keep them out of drafty, cold areas.
TOYS: Some pigeons and doves will enjoy picking at small parrot toys made of leather strips or sturdy string.
- Clean, rust-free square or rectangular metal cage. Minimum 24x24x30, with bar space no larger than ¾” to 1 inch wide.
- A selection of at least 4 different perches, such as wood dowel, natural branch type, a therapeutic perch or a cement perch, and a flat perch.
- A high quality pigeon and dove feed.
- A small parrot toy with leather strips or sturdy string.
- Pigeon/dove grit such as oyster shell with calcium supplementation.
- Treats such as millet spray and fresh foods. Avoid sugary treats like honey sticks.
- 4 sturdy dishes. One for fresh water, one for food mix, one for fresh foods and one for grit. Doves & pigeons prefer light colored dishes!
- Misting bottle and bird-bath. (shallow dish)
- Pigeons & doves often enjoy a swing to perch on.
- Nail clipper & styptic powder. NOTE! Never use styptic powder on your bird’s skin - ONLY nails!!
- A bird safe cage cover. Be careful of using towels and blankets from home which can catch bird nails and beaks in their threads or create too warm an environment inside.
- Fluorescent UVB bulb & housing
Your bird’s cage should be checked daily for any dirt that is accessible to your bird. Feces and spoiling food should be wiped clean of perches, cups and cage bars consistently to prevent health problems. Cage paper (which should be under a floor grate to prevent access to droppings) can be changed every to every-other day. Check the metal parts & bars of your bird’s cage periodically for chipped paint and rust, which can cause serious health issues if your bird chews or swallows any flaked pieces.
The entire cage should be cleaned thoroughly at least once every month with:
- A mild dishwashing liquid in warm water (make a weak dilution), THEN
- Vinegar & water (1:8) OR bleach and warm water (1:32)
- Cage “furniture” should also be scrubbed clean with the same dilution.
- RINSE OFF ALL SOAP AND BLEACH THOROUGHLY WITH PLAIN WATER BEFORE RE-INTRODUCING YOUR PET TO ITS ENCLOSURE!!
- NEVER MIX VINEGAR AND BLEACH - IT CREATES A TOXIC SOLUTION
GROOMING & HYGIENE
All birds should be gently misted with a water bottle dedicated to this use only. The spray should be room temperature and misty, sprayed up and over the bird to replicate a fine rain. NEVER spray the bird directly in the face. In addition to misting, a room temperature bird-bath should be offered to your bird at least twice weekly. Monitor your bird while he is bathing, and remove the bath when he is finished. During misting and bathing procedures, make sure there are no drafts that may chill your bird when he is wet, which can cause respiratory issues.
SEE ALSO: “Bird Grooming” sheet
IF PROBLEMS ARISE, CALL YOUR AVIAN VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY! It is also highly recommended to have your bird seen by an avian vet for a yearly exam to make sure your pet stays healthy. Birds hide illnesses well; yearly exams can catch small issues before they get worse.
- Fluffed feathers, missing patches of feathers, feathers being purposely plucked.
- Bird sitting still and low on perch with a puffed up appearance, drooping wings - may also stay at bottom of cage.
- Beak swelling or unusual marks on cere.
- Nasal discharge, eye discharge, wheezing or coughing.
- Any change in stools including color or consistency.
- Loss of appetite.
- Favoring of one foot, holding a wing differently, presence of any blood.
PLEASE REQUEST AND READ THE FOLLOWING ACCOMPANYING CARE SHEETS:
- The Importance of Healthy Exams by a Qualified Exotic / Avian Veterinarian
- Household Hazards for Birds
- Wing Clipping
- Healthy Bird Foods, Foraging & Transitioning
- Bird Grooming
- UVB Lighting for Companion Birds and Reptiles
©2012 Dawn M. Trainor / edited 11/2013 Courtesy of: Specialized Care for Avian & Exotic Pets In conjunction with Pet Supplies Plus 10882 Main Street, Clarence, NY 14031 Ph (716) 759-0144 www.buffalobirdnerd.com