For the Love of Doves
The dove, a graceful and slender bird which can be found almost everywhere in North America, known for its melodic cooing sound and wispy fluttering flight path and its timeless symbolic use. They are one of the most common birds found in the US and are considered one of the leading game birds, despite speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Doves are monogamous, have fairly long lifespans, and are very prolific breeders, producing multiple offspring each year.
Dove or Pigeon
Many people confuse doves and pigeons as they are similar looking; they are part of the same family, but differ in size and weight, with the pigeon being the larger of the two. Collectively there are over 300 species of doves and pigeons nationwide with about fifteen dove species being considered abundant enough to consider them common. The most common wild dove is the graceful Mourning Dove (also known as the turtle dove) which is most often seen perched atop an electrical wire or being brought home from a hunt. Most doves or pigeons are too large to make suitable indoor pets though some dove keepers who have outside coops will keep larger birds. The Diamond Dove, the smallest of dove species, and the Ringneck Dove are the common birds for pets and can be found in pet stores nationwide. The Java Dove, although not technically a species in their own right also makes a great pet. Java Doves are completely white caused by a mutation of the Ringneck Dove. There are also white doves that are albino, which have red or pink eyes and are less common.
Java Doves, also known as Sacred Doves and Love Doves have a special niche in the world, both from a historical perspective and a practical application outside of pet ownership. The Java Dove is an intelligent bird that can be taught simple tricks with some work and they don’t mind being held motionless nor will they panic in dark confined spaces. It is for these characteristics that they are the preferred bird of magicians worldwide who wrap them in handkerchiefs or keep them tucked away inside a top hat to dazzle audiences. Some magicians use them as distractions, others as props, or the truly inventive ones as part of the show. Their white color contrast draws attention from the audience, their mannerisms are certain to draw a few laughs, and they are easy to keep.
Magic Acts, Weddings, and Symbolic
Magicians of modern day did not give white doves their fame, that honor comes from the combined visibility these beauties have had over time and they hold the title of the most historically described dove dating back to the story of Noah and the great flood. We see the Java Dove used today as a symbol of world peace, a sacred religious symbol, and as one of the many iconic symbols of love and romance. Doves appear symbolically as symbols as messengers and symbols of hope in Judaism, Christianity, and Pagan religions. Doves have appeared at the Olympic Games, Weddings, peace protests, ancient and modern artworks, and sculptures. One very popular thing is to use White Doves for wedding releases, however today it’s really not recommended. White homing pigeons are substituted as they are very strong flyers and their homing instinct will help them return to safety after the release. A White Dove is a small bird and does not have the strong instincts like the pigeon and will often fly for a short distance before landing and many times become lost or killed by a predator or other hazard. Being pure white makes them an easy target.
Java Doves as Pets
Java doves are excellent pets, even for novice or first time bird owners. They are quite attractive to look at, are comfortable being held or allowed to perch on a shoulder or hand, and produce that ‘cooing’ sound that is very soothing but also thought provoking. Additionally, they make an amazing laughing sound which is delightful to both children and adults. This laugh can be difficult for new owners to understand as it’s not specific to anything. It’s more like the bird’s way of letting other birds or humans know that it’s around. Their mannerisms are quite comical at times as they groom themselves or peck at the ground in search of interesting crumbs to eat, moving their heads in a slightly mechanical motion, they appear like odd robots to some. They will eat a variety of seeds and grains which makes feeding them quite simple. They will also eat tiny pieces of fruit, vegetables, and hard boiled eggs as well as nipping at sprouts or other edible greens. They require very little in the form of daily maintenance aside from fresh water, which they have a tendency to leave droppings in, and attention.
Making a Dove Home in Your Home
Java Doves do well when kept in a cage inside the home, provided they have enough room to stretch their wings and move around. Most of the time they sit perched on a stationary object such as a branch or wooden bar. A single bird will do fine in a cage about 18” square (width, height, length) and a pair of doves in a cage 24” square or larger. Serious owners will have very large cages which allow mating pairs to have a richer more natural environment. These can stand up to six feet tall or more and have a very large footprint, but allow for multiple birds to cohabitate. Doves do fine when kept in cages, but will be much happier if you allow them some “free time” outside of their cages, whether to stretch their wings and visit the high curtain rods around your house or just peck at the carpet. A word of caution on this free time is to make certain your doves do not escape the confines of your home; Domesticated doves are not prepared to forage for food, will not be able to integrate with wild doves, and most likely become a meal for a predator in short order. Java Doves like a wide horizontal area to fly around in and in a matter of minutes after a noisy flight will find a comfortable perch to sit on until they are recovered. Spreading a small amount of seed on the floor can entice the bird to forage which in its own right is fascinating to observe and can keep even very small children focused and still for a long time.
Keeping Things Clean
Java Doves, like most birds tend to “do their business” wherever and whenever they please, so if you allow free flight, be prepared to do some spot cleaning behind them, no pun intended. Java Dove cages will need cleaned on a regular basis as they are messy eaters, leave a tremendous amount of droppings, and frequently drop small feathers and heavy dander. It’s wise to invest in an air cleaner and a vacuum with a HEPA or pet filter if you plan to keep Java Doves. My flock ranges from 2-3 birds in the winter up to as high as 12-15 and I use a very large IQ Air Health-Pro Plus in the room I keep them in and it runs constantly. Once a week, everything should be cleaned; the cages, the walls, the windows, and the floors. Java Doves use their beak to sift through seed cups, spreading the unwanted seeds across the cage bottoms. It’s nice to take the bottom pan outside and leave those seeds for the wild birds around your house, especially in winter months. Also in winter months, a portable cool mist humidifier helps to minimize dust from bird dander.
Bachelor or Bachelorette
Single birds do very well, often bonding with their owners in lieu of another bird. It is quite difficult to tell the sex of a young Java Dove unless they are in a group. They will perch atop your head or on your shoulder and stay there for an extended period of time as a way of bonding with you. Treat your bird with gentleness but take care when handling it as they are quicker and more powerful than their small stature appears. Chasing a new bird around the room while it keeps eluding your grasp is an almost certainty some time during the life of the bird. Some tips about keeping Java Doves in a cage will save you time and money. Java Doves love to sit on a perch; natural wood bars or branches work great and you’ll soon discover that they spend most of their time perched. Do not bother with cage toys, bells, or colorful objects as your Java Dove will ignore them. If your cage allows for multiple types of perches to be mounted, do so. A cage with a mesh bottom and clean-out tray is a must. Seed cups can be attached of the cage sides or seeds can be spread on a paper plate and placed on the cage floor, away from the bar to minimize droppings from contaminating the seed. Also as water basin must be part of the cage anatomy. Java Doves do not drink much, but when they do, they will dip their beaks in quite deep, so insure the water basin size meets their needs. Alternatively you can put a bowl on the cage floor, just be sure its heavy enough to prevent tipping over when the bird perches on an edge. Water must be changed daily.
It’s also important to place your bird cage in an area where it’s warm and dry, but not in direct sunlight. Doves are very small and direct sunlight will overheat the birds quite quickly and lead to their death. Drafty or cold weather should also be avoided for similar reasons. Ideally Java Doves will thrive in temperatures between 65 degrees and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Observing your Java Dove is the best way to determine if the temperature is sufficient. Birds that are too cold will fluff up their body and they’ll appear as a cute white puffball, but are really do this to conserve body heat. Birds that are too warm will keep their wings extended and drink more than usual and possible make light panting sounds. As a new bird owner you should observe the surroundings and your bird several times throughout the day as the sun does move and the temperature in your home may change. At night, the bird will fluff up while it sleeps and this should not be confused with being cold. After you’ve established a good temperature and your bird fluffs up in the daytime for extended periods, it’s a sign of illness.
Doves enjoy bathing and it will benefit you to encourage them to bathe to minimize dander and dust. Use a large glass Corning Ware casserole dish or similar type of bowl and fill it with hot water between 2 and 3 inches. Java Doves have an internal body temperature of about 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and they like a hot bath, not lukewarm as it will actually chill them. Do not make the mistake of thinking they want a cool water bath because its summer time. If your cage has room, you can place the bath bowl inside, or during “free time” place a dry towel on the floor and put the bath bowl on top of it. Your dove will splash a bit, thus the towel as a preventative. At first you may have to initiate the bathing ritual and must be very delicate in doing so to prevent hurting the dove. Some suggest using very mild soap, others stick to the natural method of just warm water as found in nature. There are many tutorials on line that can help you in bathing a bird safely and effectively. Bathe them early in the day to allow for drying before dark and never go against the direction of the feathers natural pathway.
Keeping Java Doves as pets gives the bird owner exposure to many different aspects of avian life and will certainly change their life for the better. A Java Dove can live up to twenty years and along the way can get sick, mate, produce offspring, and even escape, all scenarios which will require direct interaction by the owner. Despite the few tough times, the good times far outweigh them. Java Doves can provide your entire family with many years of companionship and enjoyment and you may find that you want to add additional birds to your flock or mate the birds that you have. I’ll cover mating and care for newly hatched birds in a future hub.