I keep and breed two species of small doves - diamond doves and zebra doves - in an outdoor aviary with a mixture of finches. The two species of dove live and breed happily together with the finches.
The diamond dove (Geopelia cuneata) comes from Australia and is the smallest of the dove family at around 19cm. The sexes look similar except the female's eye ring is usually smaller and duller. The diamond dove is often seen on the ground looking for seeds and even small insects like ants at times. In the wild, they live only 3-5 years but the average lifespan in captivity is 15-25 years.
Since being kept for many, many generation, there have developed different colours, or mutations. These include silver birds, all white variations and even ones which are termed as red, a rusty brown red.
The zebra dove (Geopelia striata) is a small dove, a little larger than the diamond dove, around 20cm long, and comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. The cock and slightly smaller hen are both extensively barred - even the legs and feet are barred. The alternative name of barred ground dove describes the feeding behaviour. In the wild and in captivity, they spend a lot of time foraging on the ground.
Diamond and Zebra Doves are easy to keep, inexpensive to buy and to feed and have no specialised needs. They are a delight to watch with their affection towards each other and their display dances.
Diamonds eat grass seeds and insects such as ants in the wild. In captivity, they will eat greens and vegetables as well as seeds but these will need to be softer varieties such as kale or spinach as their beaks are not designed for pecking apart food. They also need access to grit to help break down the seeds in their stomach as they eat them whole.
Doves are often given a limited variety of seed, usually millet and other small seeds, but they benefit from egg-based and other softfoods, which will supply protein and other nutrients. Grain-eating pigeons have large gizzards and although they will pick up some grit from the aviary floor, they should also be provided with additional appropriate sized grit.
Like a lot of tropical members of the pigeon family, zebra doves will eat a variety of livefood and appreciate mealworms. Being ground-foragers, a good layer of tree bark on the aviary floor and a few low-growing shrubs will encourage natural livefood.
The most important thing to remember when choosing a cage for diamond doves is that they cannot climb up bars like parrot-type birds, or even cling to them as finches do. They need to be able to fly from place to place, so a wider cage is advisable as opposed to a tall, thin one. Diamond doves will live happily with other birds in a large cage or mixed aviary. Sometimes due to their placid nature, they can be plucked for nesting material by other more confident birds such as zebra finch or canaries. I have found that they do turn eventually and stop the plucking and then life settles down. Should a bird not defend itself, then perhaps a mixed aviary is not suitable. All birds have a different personality. If you decide to keep your birds in a cage in the house, beware they can be prone to night frights. From experience, I would not advise they be kept in the bedroom as when they get frightened, they can cause quite a ruckus and will wake most people. Otherwise, they will get their bearings against and settle back down. The aviary is not heated but I put up polythene screens in winter that keeps the birds dry and warm.
For all they are small diamond doves can make quite a loud noise, mostly when the male is trying to attract the attention of the female. Aside from the call, they make a variety of typical dove-family cooing sounds with different calls for different situations.
These little doves do not have any particular common illnesses and are relatively hardy. Depending on what conditions they have been bred in, they have no special need for heat in the winter, as long as a shelter is provided.
They also visually display signs of ill health if they are unwell such as being fluffed up or listless. Both of these things are done to conserve energy and warmth to fight illness.
The flimsy nest is usually built in the fork of a tree. In captivity they will use trays and baskets. Although zebra doves are only (and half of that is the tail), they will defend their nests against bigger birds, battering them with well-aimed powerful wing slaps. All members of the pigeon family from an early age do this as a means of defence.
One or more eggs (usually two) are incubated by both sexes for 11-13 days.Abandoned squabs can be fostered under other species of nesting doves, as long as those parent birds are producing pigeon milk for their own nestlings.
My turn next: eager doves wait for hand-feedingMy turn next: eager doves wait for hand-feedingBreeding Diamond Doves When the hen shows signs of being ready to breed, the male will display for her, flaring out his tail feathers, bowing and cooing to her. They are affectionate little birds and almost seem to cuddle each other before mating occurs. Nests are built from grasses and twigs but are somewhat fragile in appearance. Usually this can be in a nest pan, which tends to be a platform with a low lip around it. I have known doves use finch nesting boxes, which are a bit tight, and food bowls, as well. Sometimes you can add the perfect nest for the bird but this doesn’t mean they will use it! Only two eggs are laid and are incubated for 13-14 days. Chicks fledge quickly and will be feathered and out of the nest in around two weeks, though ability to fly may not be strong at first. Once the chicks have fledged they are fed by their parents for around three weeks. They are quite demanding at times and seem to throw a wing around the parent to persuade them to feed. The more demanding the chick is the greater the chance it can feed itself and the parent is weaning it. They demand from their parent as much for attention as the need for food. Sometimes it can be necessary to separate the chicks once they are eating on their own to avoid conflict when the parents go down to nest again. The doves tend to breed after rain but mostly in spring in Southern Australia. Nests are usually built from interwoven grasses and/or twigs, and are fragile in construction. Two white eggs are usually laid and incubated for 13 to 14 days. Their chicks are fast to grow, and are usually fully feathered and flying by two weeks.
As the nestlings grow, regurgitated seed is phased in as a rearing food. Young leave the nest around 10 days old, and are duller versions of their parents. But as is often the case with doves, they may leave the nest prematurely, especially when flimsy nests provide little room. (Baskets have an advantage in containing nestlings as opposed to trays and flimsy nests.)
When young zebra doves end up on the aviary floor, being small and defenceless they are vulnerable to larger aviary inmates. They are fed for a long time after leaving the nest sometimes for up to a month, and roost all together.
I board small pets for £1 per animal per day. The money raised for boarding goes directly to the education charity Porridge and Rice that works among the extreme poor living in the Nairobi slums.
In addition, if you have small animals that you no longer can care for, regardless of the reason, I will happily take them in and rehome them. If I cannot find them a new, good home, they will live their days out at The Farm at 64.