by John Pire
This article will help many of the first time fanciers of the Ringneck Dove who get the birds & then begin asking themselves, "What do I do now? How do I house them? What do I feed them? How do I tell male & female?
Basically the Ringneck Dove, if in good health, is relatively hardy & can tolerate a lot of "dove stupidity" on the part of their new owners.
The first thing to consider is how to house the birds. A single pair of Ringnecks can be housed very comfortably in a 2 foot square cage. This size provides enough room for the birds to exercise their wings & also provides room for young when they fledge the nest. Water & feed containers can be attached outside or inside the cage; depending on the fancier’s preference. The nest container can be securely attached in a corner. A single perch (square or round) can be positioned in the center. Centering the perch keeps the bird’s from rubbing their tail feathers on the wire sides. Also, never place feed or water containers under any perch whether in a cage or walk-in flight.
What type of wire is preferred for the homemade cages? This is also left up to the fancier. Is the cage going to be inside? Outside? Inside of a large walk in flight? How is the water & feed containers going to be attached (inside or outside of the cage)? The wire used to build a homemade cage can be from ¼" hardware cloth to 1" by 2" welded wire. The larger "opening" wire will allow varmints to get into or reach into the cage. Using "chicken wire" or plastic poultry netting is the cheapest & worst to use. Neither is very strong; the chicken wire can rust very quickly & a bird flying against it can find itself going thru the rusted area & becoming free. The plastic poultry netting can be torn by the varmints quite easily. Both need some type of frame to be attached to.
Store bought cages should be at least the size of a Rabbit or Cockatiel cage. A cage which is longer then it is taller is preferred for the doves. Doves do not climb the sides of a cage as the hookbills do.
If the birds are to be kept outdoors in a breeder cage set-up or walk-in flights a "top" covering the cage/flight with a 2" overhang on all sides should be considered. A solid top, of wood, tin or fiberglas panels protects the birds from the weather & keeps wild birds, which do carry diseases, from perching on the top of the cage & depositing their disease laden droppings into your bird’s cage. There are a number of fatal diseases your birds can pick up from wild birds. Also placement of the cage outdoors should be considered so varmints cannot get the birds or at least disturb them.
For walk-in flights the flooring can be whatever the fancier desires. Drainage is a very important aspect; water should be drained away towards the outside of the flights. Standing water on the flooring can be cause for disease. Most outdoor flights have earth floors. If you choose earth flooring, be aware there are diseases, which if they get into your birds, their droppings will contaminate the soil & can remain for years. Birds put into theses flights will eventually catch the diseases. Predatory or pests such as gophers, mice, rats moles etc, can tunnel into the flights. This can be avoided by burrowing a sheet of galvanized metal or fiberglas at least 18" into the ground completely around the outside perimeter walls of the flight. Mice can squeeze through ½" hardware cloth which might be used as the buried barrier – so it is not advisable to use it.
Cement can be utilized; cement or wooden floors should be covered with sand; small gravel, soil or wood shaving. What ever is used it will need to be removed & replaced when dirty & at least once per year. Platforms of wire can also be used as flooring, but some consideration should be made so that the area under the wire floor panels can be cleaned yearly or more often.
All outdoor cages/flights should be affixed with some type of "safety" door. This safety entrance will prevent any accidental escapes. The safety entrance is devised of two doors & a hallway; you enter the outside door & close it behind you before opening the door to the flight. Many fanciers have had that best bird fly past them to freedom, because they did not incorporate a safety entrance system into their flights. A simple screen door spring & hooks on the inside of the doors helps ensure the door comes closed & does not swing open if an inside latch is not used.
Perches: doves do not do well if forced to utilize small twigs, doweling, wire or rope. Doves perch with their feet flat. Metal perches should never be used; they can get too cold in winter & too hot in the summer. Wooden perches of about 1 ½" thickness are ideal. The perches can be lumber cut to size or large branches. The perches of this size allow the doves to cover their feet with their feathers for warmth; preventing frostbite of the toes in freezing weather.
In the walk in flights, several perches can be used. Place them at different levels, remembering not to place them over the feed & water containers. The dominate bird or pair of birds will utilize the highest perch & allowing the less dominate birds to perch on the lower perches. Another good thing to remember is never place perches above each other – for obvious reasons.
Ringnecks love to water bathe, providing a shallow container for the birds’ helps keep their feathers clean & in good condition. A container of from 1" to 2" deep is best. It should be emptied or at least cleaned & refilled after the birds have bathed, as they will drink from this "water dish". Doves may bathe upwards of 3 times a day in the summertime. If adequate drainage is in the flights they will even sit under a lawn sprinkler placed so it sprays into the flights.
Another set of items is the seed & water containers. Many different styles can be used – from self feeders/waterers to open dishes. Doves have no concept of cleanliness & will defecate into their feed, water & gravel containers. When these containers become soiled/dirty they can become a health risk to the birds, not to mention looking & smelling bad. With a little thought many ways can be devised for keeping the birds from contaminating their feed & water.
Clean fresh water is essential for all doves every day. Doves can go several days without feed, but only a very short time without water. One day with an emptied water container can be deadly for the birds in the hot summer. It is left up to the individual fancier on how to add multi vitamins/minerals to their birds diet. It can be done in the water or on the feed.
Birds kept indoors & not having access to sunlight will need the added mineral & vitamins. Also a good "full spectrum" light source needs to be utilized so the bird’s body can utilize the mineral & vitamins. Note: sunlight coming thru glass is not beneficial except as a light, all the needed rays the bird needs are reflected by glass.
Most diseases that affect "pigeons" also can affect the doves. Utilizing the pigeon web sites for information, medicines & treatments will be beneficial. Several very good web sites are listed on the IDS LINKS page. Most will also accept phone calls & all are quite helpful & knowledgeable.
Doves do not "husk" their seeds as finches & hookbills do. Providing the doves with a mineral/charcoal grit will aid in the digestion of the whole seeds eaten. Many may argue that the grit is not needed & has been studied. Most fanciers provide the grit for their birds. The brand name RED CROSS "pigeon" grit available at most feed stores, is the one most widely used. A good tip to follow on getting the right sized grit is to get one which is about the same size as the seeds which are fed. Grit too large will not be eaten & a small powdered grit will be wasted.
Feeding the doves is quite easy, but usually depends on three factors: availability, affordability & the number of birds being fed. The "experts" say that a diet of between 14% & 18% protein with at least 4% fat is best. Some of the "Gamebird or Turkey" starter feeds are 28% and may be too "hot" for the doves system. Feeding "hen scratch" by itself is also not a good idea.
If only a few Ringnecks are being fed, then a "luxury" seed mix is not big problem. If feeding over 100 birds, then a well balanced, nutritional, cost effective no frills seed diet becomes essential.
Brand name seed mixes which are blended for the doves can be used, but are at times quite costly. A "pigeon pellet" can be utilized also, but size should be checked to ensure it is not too large for them to swallow. The seed & pellet diets can be combined & supplemental foods such as greens, breads, cheddar cheese, mixed veggies & diced fruits can be given if the birds will eat these items. Remember, begin with a clean seed mix & then add what you want. I use a wild bird seed mix, & add safflower.
The Ringnecks are quite hard to sex visually. Many an "old timer" in the dove fancier will tell you "the only one who can accurately sex a dove is another dove & they sometimes make mistakes".
Average weight per grams - ranges from 140 to 215 grams. Using 160 grams for females and 180 grams for males is typical.
Many fanciers utilize the sexing of the Ringnecks by doing the "pelvic bone" test. The bird is held upright & your index finger is run up between the legs to the vent area. For a male the two bones should be stiff, pointed & almost touching each other at the tips. In females the pelvic bones should be more curved, spongy, rounded at the tip & your finger should almost fit between the ends. This is not 100 %, as either scenario can be found on either sex.
Sexing the birds by visual signs is almost as difficult as the pelvic bone test & used as much as the pelvic bone test for sexing the Ringneck Dove. Most times it is the male which does the typical bow & coo to another bird. However, many females do the same bow & coo to other birds & can fool even the best expert. If one becomes familiar with the typical male & female bowing & cooing one can usually detect a difference in the volume & intensity of the female who bows & coos as compared to a male. Many a fancier has set-up same sex pairs – either 2 males or 2 females. The female pairs usually do a better job of hatching fostered eggs (their own eggs will not be fertile).
A god tip to remember – two males will never lay eggs, two hens will eventually lay four eggs with no fertility & a male & female will lay two eggs & with incubation the eggs will be fertile. Ringnecks can & will breed at 5 or 6 months of age; it is best to wait & pair birds of 9 to 12 months of age.
When a pair is set-up, be it a single cage or in a colony flight, be sure to supply a nest container of about 4 to 6 inches that is securely attached. In the colony situation supply two containers for each pair of birds. Place the containers in different areas & different heights. If no containers are provided for nesting the birds will nest in the seed or grit containers or even on the floor.
Nesting materials can be hay, straw, pine needles, thin pliable twigs, soft dried grasses, etc; of from 4 to 6 inches in length. Note: using stiff twigs can sometimes be positioned by the pair that the ends poke or crack the eggs while the birds are incubating. Some excellent "pliable twigs" can be found on the ground under a pecan tree after the pecans have fallen & the tree begins losing it's leaves. Never use any type of nesting string, yarn & such type materials "minute" strands can become wrapped around the leg or toe cutting off circulation & causing that limb to die - many times before the fancier see it.
Most times the pair will accept the nest container the fanciers has provided for them. The pair may try to nest in the seed or grit container or even on the cage floor. They can easily be persuaded to utilize the provided container. If eggs are laid they can usually be moved to the container & the pair will cover them.
The male will sit in the nest & coo. He also "wing twitches" or "wing flipping" while cooing trying to entice the hen to his chosen spot. As the pair begin to "bond" they will "preen" each other about the head & neck areas. This strengthens the pair bond. This is called "allo preening". The male will court the hen bowing & cooing (courting mpeg) all over the cage or flight trying to get her to accept his advances so he can mate with her. When she accepts his advances they begin the mating process. They first begin by "billing" & preening each other in earnest & then the hen tries to get the male to "feed" her (picture). This scenario is repeated several times each day. After this is completed the male will mount the hen & they will mate. The pair will usually mate several times a day up until the hen lays the 1st egg.
In several unscientific tests I did, the fertility of the eggs laid can last as long as 6 days without incubation, then be put under a setting hen & hatched.
The clutch consists of two white oval eggs. The 1st egg is laid from 6 to 10 days after the pair has mated. From data collected over 25 plus years of dove keeping the 1st egg can be laid from early morning to late afternoon or early evening. The 2nd egg is laid within 26 to 46 hours after the 1st egg. (Chart)
Both parents share incubation & chick rearing duties. Typically it is said that the hen time is from about 4 or 5 pm until about 9 or 10 am & the male sets the rest. Do not be alarmed if you see either bird on the nest or chicks at any time. I have seen the parents switch as much as 5 times during the daylight hours.
Incubation by the parent birds usually begins with the laying of the 2nd egg. Although the birds may set on the 1st egg, incubation or "brood" temperature may not have been started with the first egg. This allows for both eggs to hatch on the same day. Incubation lasts 14 days – always give an extra day or two before tossing out the eggs. Incubation may not have started as expected. It may take the chick upwards of 24 hours to get out of the egg – so be patient.
From data collected on over 65 different species of doves/pigeons in my collection in the many years I have been keeping them – most times the eggs will hatch within 8 to 16 hours of each other; indicating that the hen begins "brood" temperature (incubation) before she lays the 2nd egg. I would say that in about 25% of the time both eggs will hatch within the same 8 hours & probably another 25% hatch a full day apart from each other. More then two days hatching difference can be devastating on the late hatching chick. The older chick is stronger & can beg for food more & can be fed quicker then the later hatchling. Within a short time the late hatchling does not have enough strength to compete with its nest mate & soon dies from malnourishment.
Both parents will feed the young on "pigeon milk" for the first few days of life. Each day thereafter the parents begin adding digested seeds to the youngster’s feedings. At about 6 to 10 days the amount of feed fed to the parent birds can be increased. Water intake can also increase in the parent birds.
Young Ringnecks fledge within two weeks after hatching & can be taken away from the parents by 30 days. Always observe the young before removing them from the parents to ensure they are drinking & feeding themselves. If no interference is seen you can leave the youngster with their parents, even if the parents have gone back to the nest.
Sexing young Ringnecks is as difficult as in the adults. Close observations of the young many times will allow you to see young males "role" playing their sex by trying to bow, coo & even try mounting other birds.
Try to keep your cages/flights, whether indoors or outdoors as clean & attractive as possible. Keeping your cages/flights clean & attractive can promote or develop a more positive attitude from your relatives & friends who do not share your interest in this area of aviculture.