Basic Medical And Housing Needs for Pigeons and Doves
Dave Rupiper DVM

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It comes as no surprise that pigeons and doves have become domesticated and used as a source of food, income, sport and entertainment for centuries. Their docile nature, prolific reproductive capacity and minimal housing and nutritional requirements have helped them achieve this popularity. Even today, pigeons are trained to race in meets with purse prizes exceeding $25,000. Doves, too, have been kept as aviary specimens, utilized as a food source and as performance or show animals.
 
The basics tenets of avian husbandry apply to doves just as with any bird species. Nutrition appropriate to the species, adequate housing, and a clean environment are all that is needed to raise and house doves. Let's discuss each of these areas individually.
 
Doves and pigeons should be housed appropriately. The aviary or loft must provide at least 2.5 m3 for each bird. This means that approximately 20 birds may housed in a 6 x6 x 6 foot loft. There should be at least two perches per bird and two nest boxes per pair. You may find with doves, however, that they prefer to form communal nest sites and will raise and feed each other's offspring. The nesting areas should be above the floor at least four feet and in a protected area. Small 'V' shaped boxes lined with grasses and attached to the walls seem to work best. The aviary needs to protect the birds during foul weather. At all times the loft must remain dry and clean. Ventilation is achieved by having screened windows or doors and ventilation ports. Water containers and feeders are best elevated at least three feet off the cage floor.
 
Taking care of doves is rather simple as well. Though doves prefer a dry aviary, they enjoy taking baths. These can be offered weekly by placing a shallow pan of water on the aviary floor. Bath water should be provided in a container separate from the drinking water. Baths aid in reducing external parasites but pigeons often need to be dusted for lice and pigeon flies on a monthly or quarterly schedule. Cleaning the aviary floor on a daily or weekly schedule will help to eliminate parasites and keep bacterial and protozoal infections to a minimum. Keeping the loft clean is essential to flock health.
 
Most infectious diseases commonly affecting doves and pigeons can be "managed" away. Bacterial infections like Salmonella and E. coli are prevented by good loft hygiene and husbandry practices. Trichomoniasis (Canker) and Coccidiosis are protozoal infections which are also controlled through sanitation, disinfecting water vessels and occasionally with medications. The biggest concern with dove and pigeon diseases is Psittacosis. This unique bacterial infection is transmissible to humans. Fortunately, it is rarely encountered in a healthy flock and seldom affects humans exposed to pigeons and doves. Psittacosis is controlled by medication and reducing crowding within the aviary.
 
The nutritional requirements of doves and pigeons are easily provided. In general, doves require a fairly high fiber diet of grains and seeds. A protein content of 14% is desirable but they will do well on diets containing 12-18% protein. Grains most commonly fed include millet, corn, wheat, milo as well as peas and safflower. Numerous commercial seed mixes are available and are normally fed once or twice daily. Doves and pigeons also need a source of grit and oyster shell. The shell provides calcium and phosphorus and the grit aids in the digestion of the seed. Occasionally, doves will eat chopped fruits and vegetables, live prey such as meal worms and human foods like pastas, bread, crackers and cheeses. With this kind of diet vitamins may not be necessary but if the birds eat only seed mixes then supplementation of the diet with soluble vitamins in the water may be desirable. The water must be changed on a daily basis and the water vessels disinfected weekly.
 
Taking care of doves is rather simple as well. Though doves prefer a dry aviary, they enjoy taking baths. These can be offered weekly by placing a shallow pan of water on the aviary floor. Bath water should be provided in a container separate from the drinking water. Baths aid in reducing external parasites but pigeons often need to be dusted for lice and pigeon flies on a monthly or quarterly schedule. Cleaning the aviary floor on a daily or weekly schedule will help to eliminate parasites and keep bacterial and protozoal infections to a minimum. Keeping the loft clean is essential to flock health.
 
Most infectious diseases commonly affecting doves and pigeons can be "managed" away. Bacterial infections like Salmonella and E. coli are prevented by good loft hygiene and husbandry practices. Trichomoniasis (Canker) and Coccidiosis are protozoal infections which are also controlled through sanitation, disinfecting water vessels and occasionally with medications. The biggest concern with dove and pigeon diseases is Psittacosis. This unique bacterial infection is transmissible to humans. Fortunately, it is rarely encountered in a healthy flock and seldom affects humans exposed to pigeons and doves. Psittacosis is controlled by medication and reducing crowding within the aviary.
 
Doves' gentle nature, graceful appearance and soft voice have made them ideal aviary specimens and display animals. For more information about doves, please check your library and contact your local avicultural organizations.