Can Hatchling Senegal Doves be Sexed?
By John Pire
(Courtesy of the Canadian Dove Society)

I have spent twenty-five years plus in keeping and propagating different species of Exotic Doves/Pigeons. I observe and study the birds housed in my collection quite close. Many facets of their behavior and sex differences have been documented. If the male and female are not dimorphic then one can be confused as to what sex they actually have. Many times "same sex" pairs are put together and it may be several breeding seasons before one realizes the error. This article will describe the sex dimorphism I observed and documented in the Senegal Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis).

Another research endeavor I documented was the sexual dimorphism in young Greenwing Doves (Chalcophaps indica) in the 1980ís and wrote several articles on the subject. One of these articles was cited in the book Birds of the World, Volume 4 within the Columbidae section written by a great friend, the late Dr Luis Baptista.

The Senegal Dove is a species in which the sexes are very similar to each other. Some of the differences I read about or discussed with fanciers who kept the Senegal are: the brightness and or dullness of the head, neck and back areas. The differences noted in the "necklace" of a male. The maleís "black" spots in the neck looking a bit larger or thicker then the hens. The bowing and cooing displays of a bird, guaranteeing it to be a male as hens never bow and coo. The coloration of the chest area of males extends further and is brighter then the females. The chest and belly area of the hens are a cream color. Color differences of the legs and feet; iris coloration of males and females. The amount of the blue-gray color along the wing shield edge, with a deeper and thicker area on males then the females

I have checked out all the tips I read or heard about. In having seven pair set up and being quite observant, I see and record things many fanciers never notice. I have females as brightly colored as the males across the backs and wing shields; I have personally seen females bow and coo to another bird, usually to another Senegal in the adjoining cage. I have two males just as dull as the females across the back and wing shields. One pair does match the bright male and dull female standard. I see some differences in the chest, legs and feet, wing shield edge coloration in a few of the birds, but nothing I would consider as accurate every time. If comparisons cannot be done then these items would be of little use. Using some or all of the tips will help aid the fancier.

The sexing tip I use on any adult Senegals I add to my stock is the "iris" coloration. In the male the iris is dark colored and in the females the iris is brown/grey. I was told about this "iris" tip back in the early 1980ís and used it for any Senegals I obtained or sold. In 2000 I set up 7 pair of unrelated breeding pairs of the Senegals. I used the "iris" tip on the adults I obtained and within a month all pairs were on fertile eggs. I obtained three birds from one fancier as all males. I sexed the birds using the "iris" method when I got them home; there were two males and one female. One had a dark iris and was a male and one had the brown/greenish iris, a female. The third bird had an "iris" coloration I had never seen in a Senegal Dove before. I likened this iris color to the yellowish iris color of the Laceneck or Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis). I use the term "yellow iris or yellow eyed" for this possible mutation. This bird was a male. It was paired with a normal colored iris hen I had obtained from a fancier on the East Coast. 

Note: this "yellow" iris may be a mutation. This yellow-eyed male may even conceal a hidden mutation. This aspect is being researched. The "yellow iris" looks to be dominate. All eleven young raised to date have the same yellow iris coloration as the adult male. At this writing four eggs were laid in the nest in the flight by two of the oldest hens. These eggs have been fostered under foster birds & one is fertile. The hatching hair dimorphism was used in these young and there are males and females with the "yellow iris". Research is being conducted on this mutation & as of 1/2002 F2 young have been produced which have the "yellow iris". Upon the completion of the research data an article will be forthcoming..

In the close observations I made of the Senegal Doveís young I began to notice that there was a difference in the hatching hair of the young. Some young had a straw colored hair & others had a reddish tinge to the straw colored hair. At hatching, the difference is visible on the head and down the center of the back. You should record this data. After the youngster begins to attain the juvenile feathering the "reddish" color may be somewhat subdued and the bird may resemble the "non-reddish". You may then question your first observation. Not all reddish young have the same reddish hatching hair. There can be slight variation. This variation I attribute to the variation in the adults. I took some pictures and began to ask some of the fanciers who kept this specie. None had ever seen this facet before.

In talking with several friends it was discussed that this might be a possible sex dimorphism. Since very few "mutations" occur in the Senegal Dove. I was told that the "reddish" color was possibly the standard for the young males of the species. I eventually documented that both "reddish" and "non-reddish" are standard for captive birds and is also likely the standard for this species in the wild.

This "hair" coloration difference was noted in all the breeding pairs of Senegals. I use the terms "reddish" and "non-reddish" for describing the hatching hair differences. The "reddish" coloration is retained many times thru the juvenile plumage. This difference begins to disappear with the pre-adult molt. The young then look quite similar. The clutches of the young could contain the following: both reddish young, both non-reddish or one young of each color. Banding the young while they were still in the nest helped identify the birds as being described as being reddish or non-reddish at hatching. When they attained adult plumage and their sex could be documented & verified correctly this data was compared to the hatching data.

You are probably saying well sex them by the "iris" coloration. The iris color difference does not work on any juvenile Senegals. All juvenile birds have the brown or gray colored iris similar to the henís iris color. The "dark" iris of the male begins to darken at about eight to ten months of age. The dark iris makes the entire eye appear to be entirely black or dark in color. I have seen young males begin bowing and cooing at about six to seven months of age. These birds can be banded as males. I have never seen young hens bow and coo.

Sexual Dimorphism using the "hatching hair" is accurate in Senegal Doves

reddish hatching haired young are "male"
non-reddish hatching haired young are "female"

I now use this "hatchling hair dimorphism" on all the Senegal Doves hatched in my collection. For any adults, I obtain from other fanciers, I still rely on the "iris" coloration for sexing.

Once you actually see this difference you may want to use any name you want for describing the hatching hair colors. One does not have to use the terms "reddish" and "non-reddish" that I use in this article. I hope this article helps any fancier keeping this specie to accurately sex their young birds they sell or distribute to interested fanciers.

As a member of the Canadian Dove Association and the American Dove Association I encourage fellow members and any other dove fanciers worldwide to share their tips on any aspect of their experiences in keeping the foreign doves & pigeons.

1/2002 J. Pire