The Diamond Dove – The Easy Breeding Bird
by David D Smith

This article was reprinted in the IDS newsletter. It originally was printed in the ACBM (American Cage Bird Magazine) back in the mid 1970’s.

Anyone who has seen the Diamond Dove will agree that it is an attractive bird. The books all say that the Diamond is completely sociable with other birds, except possibly with other small doves, and that this dove is a very easy bird to breed. The impression one gets from the books is that one could hardly prevent them from breeding – even by withholding nest bowls – "they will nest in the seed dishes."

For nearly three years I could not have agreed less with such assessments. I bought Diamond Doves – waited – bought new ones – waited – and waited again. No eggs even. Since that time I have raised many dozens of Diamond Doves. Now I must agree that the book writers are correct. The Diamond Dove is a very prolific bird; indeed, a healthy, true pair can hardly be prevented from breeding.

Why was I – and many others I have talked with – unsuccessful? After discussing the Diamond Dove in general, I will conclude with some thoughts on the probable causes of failure with these birds.

Native to Australia. The Diamond Dove ranks as the most popular bird of Australian origin after the Budgie, Cockatiel & Zebra Finch. Like these others it is thoroughly domesticated. All imports from Australia have stopped so long ago that the bird you might buy has been in captivity for dozens of generations.

During a visit with Dave West of Montebello, California, in December, 1971, I learned from him when the ancestors of our Diamonds must have arrived. West says that the first shipments of Diamonds (normal colored birds) were imported from Australia into Los Angeles about 1925. They fetched a fancy price in the neighborhood of $125 a pair. Not many were ever imported since they proved to be so prolific that the demand was soon met by Los Angeles area aviculturists. Unless there were East Coast importations that we know nothing about, this means that the many thousands of Diamond Doves in the country today, and perhaps those of Europe as well, are all descended from these original shipments imported some 50 years ago. The silver-colored mutation of the diamond was first imported from Australia some 20 to 25 years ago. Dave West recalls that only two shipments were ever received, some months apart; a total of only 40 to 50 birds. The price ran about $70 a pair. In one shipment the males had very prominent and fleshy rings around the eyes. In the other the males had eye rings not much more developed than the females. In one shipment the silvers were reputed to be simple recessive to the normal colored bird. In the other the silvers were supposed to be recessive & sex-linked. West is not aware that this sex-linkage was ever proven out by breeding experiments. Should anyone have other information on importations of Diamond Doves I would be very interested to hear of it.

Maintenance of the Diamond Dove is very simple. Drinking water & grit are essential, of course. Dave West feels that providing broken-up pieces of cuttlebone is also an essential. Small millets seem to be the favorite seed. I provide a wild bird mix with no sunflower seed, which has a variety of small seeds & a little milo. A finch mix is satisfactory but more expensive. Diamonds definitely will eat greens (Romaine lettuce, in my case) especially when feeding babies. They have been observed to eat soaked bread & corn on the cob which has been provided for Cockatiels.

Whereas I have never seen a Diamond take a water bath, sunbathing is a passion. Birds kept indoors will be deprived of this, and might benefit from cod live roil to supply the vitamin D the bird might have gotten from the sunbathing (assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that birds can absorb this vitamin as humans do).

Housing is not a problem since Diamonds can be kept with the finch collection. I have never noted Diamonds to be aggressive towards other birds than their own species, or other small dove species. The problem is more likely to be the other birds bothering the Diamonds. They are quite compatible with Cockatiels, for instance, but a Cockatiels idle chewing can make short work of a Diamond’s nest!

The Diamond should, in my opinion, be considered an aviary bird. They are not active birds – not given to flitting from perch to perch – and it might be anticipated that they would grow too fat if given no opportunities for free flight at all. I have no doubt they could, and are being, cage bred; but considering that this bird is given to swift & direct flight, they would appear to be better provided for with at least six feet of flying room. Probably an indoor cage four feet long, with perches only at opposite ends, would serve.

So far as temperature is concerned, the Diamond is surely as tough as the hardiest member of your collection.

Breeding the Diamond Dove is rather predictable. The main feature of courtship is the male bowing & cooing before the hen, with his crop moderately inflated with air; he spreads his elevated tail with each bow & coo.

Virtually any nesting receptacle will serve. I presently use plastic berry baskets from the market. The basket is mounted on an L-shaped bracket, such that the basket is held about four inches from the wall. This protects the tail of the sitting bird. The basket is provided nearly full of dried grass, or with a folded & shaped piece of burlap. Higher nests are preferred to lower, and if a branch or piece of palm can hide the nest from direct view, so much the better. In a planted aviary, wire netting platforms secured in the bushes might serve as bases for nests.

A pair that is ready to nest will persist whether suitable nests are available or not. I have noted birds to crawl into finch boxes (whose holes had been enlarged by chewing Cockatiels) where they could not turn around. One pair nested in a bowl of sunflower seeds. This year a pair nested successfully atop a clump of grass, barely seven inches from the ground.

Two pure white oval-shaped eggs will be laid; the second two days after the first. The adults cove the eggs from the start, but do not sit tight before the second egg is laid, causing both eggs to hatch together on the thirteenth day. The blind, down-covered babies grow rapidly & leave the nest about two weeks later. The parents who share in all phases of the breeding operation, are quite attentive to the youngsters after they leave the nest & will feed them for a week & more thereafter. Fidelity to their fledgling babies makes the Diamond valuable to the foreign dove breeder as foster parents, since many foreign doves neglect babies that have left the nest.

By the time one clutch leaves the nest it is likely that the hen will be laying again. Some pairs will produce two babies a month with great reliability; skipping only a month or two during the year. The silver Diamonds, depending on the strain, may be very likely to produce only one baby in a nesting, the other egg being clear. Because the silvers seem less robust in general, most breeders mate silvers to split-silvers (normal colored birds that had one silver parent), which mating will produce 50% silvers & 50% split silvers. The cooing of these doves – especially maturing & unmated males – may at times become fairly persistent, but to me ha snot been unwelcome. It is not likely that the neighbors would object.

Colony breeding: My experience has been that with more than one breeding pair per pen there will soon appear four or more eggs in a nest. Even though there are more than enough nests to go around, two or three hens choose to lay in the same nest; more eggs result than can be covered (even though two birds may sit at the same time) and each egg is chilled in turn before it can hatch. For this reason I have found colony breeding about useless & prefer to keep one pair per pen. Given a superabundance of nests perhaps this can be avoided. Even then, unless banding is resorted to (budgie bands are just the right size, by the way) you will shortly lose track, or perhaps never know which birds produced which babies.

Fighting will be observed when more than one pair are kept together, but no real harm ever seems to come of it.

Babies left with their parents become breeding pairs with amazing quickness. I have recorded hens laying at two months; though four or more months is more likely.

Colors of the Diamond Dove. The original, or normal-colored Diamond Dove is mainly a grey blue above with pearl grey undersides. The silver mutation is grey above, without the blue tints of the normal, but with the same light grey undersides. There are silvers seen occasionally which are significantly lighter in color than most – approaching a white. I am not aware that these lighter shades have been established as a true breeding strain. Yet, it is noted that certain European bird sellers offer a "new mutation" of the silver (variously called "scintillating," "glittering" and "brilliant") for stiff prices. In color transparencies, they appear to be simply light-colored silvers. Several other color mutations have been seen.

Dave West once bred a pure white "silver" (but not an albino), which died before it could be reproduced. The late Bob Dalton of Arrow Bird Farm, Fontana, California told me of being shown a white Diamond.

Paul Norine of Citrus Heights, California reported (March 1972, ACBM), with an accompanying picture, a light buff colored, pink-eyed "albino," bred in his aviaries from normal colored parents. At last word (letter dated 3/9/72) Norine ha snot been able to breed from this bird.

Recently I have heard of a strain of pied Diamonds that existed in the Los Angeles area, but I have not been able to assure that they still exist. These were normal colored birds splotched with white.

It seems inevitable that many other variations on the basic silver & normal colored Diamonds exists in unknown private aviaries.

Sexing the Diamond Dove may or may not be easy. Mature males are likely to have a more prominent & fleshy eye ring than any female, but not all males are so equipped. In the normal colored Diamond the female will generally be more brownish across the back. A hen in fine laying condition will have the pubic bones spaced an eight of an inch or more apart. The mature male will have no space between the pubic bones, ordinarily. Immature birds may have these bones move about a good deal from day to day. A bird which coos a good bit is probably a male. If it displays, it certainly is a male. The size of the diamond spots has been mentioned as useful in sexing, and while these spots do have variable sizes at times between birds, I have never been able to correlate this with sex. It should be stressed that all observations will fail if the birds are immature or much out of condition. For sexing purposes I consider a bird much less than a year old as immature & likely to fool me.

Why aren’t your Diamond Doves producing? Naturally you have made sure the birds are healthy & well fed & protected from undue disturbance. If your Diamonds are not breeding the most likely reason is that you do not have a true pair. Incompatible pairs that breed slowly, or not at all, are found but are very rare. Consider this test: Very young birds will have eye rings of a greyish orange color. Reasonably mature birds, unless badly out of condition (when their ceres fade to a pink flesh color), will have a bright red eye ring. If your birds have nice red eye rings, and have been that way for, say six months – and still have not bred – they surely must not be a pair. Should you live in colder climates & keep the birds inside for part of the year, perhaps you need to be more tolerant of slow developments and wait for one full summer after you are sure the birds are fully matured.

This further advice has been offered to me. If your non-producing "pair" is not heard to coo much they are both hens. If much cooing is heard but no eggs result, they are both males. Two males will display to each other whereas two hens will not.

Another problem may be that the birds are "over the hill." One breeder I spoke with said he bred his doves continuously until the production began to decline, and then sold them off. One could end up with such "exhausted" birds; not that Diamonds are short-lived at all. Dave West has a pair of Diamonds that he had ten years ago, and which still produce; only now they have more of clear eggs & single clutches than before.

Two pairs maintained at all well should produce. If yours do not, while getting reasonable care, why not replace them with other stock that might find your care more to their liking?

Maybe I should be more cautious & admit that unidentified chance events may help or hinder in quiet ways when the timing is right. Let me refer you to the words of Mr. Jean Delacour, an aviculturist of world renown, writing in the Avicultural Magazine (Jan-Feb 1972, p 32); "Luck plays a great part in bird breeding successes. One cannot make a poor pair nest; but of course it is easy to stop a good one from doing so."

The Diamond Dove requires less "luck" than many other birds.

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