In this week’s Earth and Beyond program, host and producer Robin Song introduces us to a couple new members of her family…ring-necked doves. Audio is about 7 minutes. Text follows. Photos by Robin Song.
In early June this year an albino Ring-Necked Dove joined my family. I hadn’t planned on owning a dove, but when a friend called saying this young bird was in dire need of a home, I decided to say yes. He arrived in a rabbit cage, which I placed on top of a milk crate next to the cage housing my two parakeets. Their twin cage, pushed together to form one large one, is also on top of two milk crates, so now all three cages were at the same height on top of the counter in the center of the kitchen area of the cabin. The parakeets-Azure and her mate, Blanco- were at first a little nervous of the new comer, but soon curiosity won them over. The dove, which I named “Piper”, was quiet as he settled in to his new home, for the next few days. Then, one morning I heard gentle cooing. I came out of the bedroom and went to Piper’s cage. Sure enough, he was cooing, sitting by his mirror.
Friends in Oregon who rescue all kinds of parrots and Sugar Gliders (nocturnal marsupials) sent me print outs of how to care for doves. I wasn’t sure what kind of dove Piper is, since he’s an albino, but looking at the photos, I soon realized that he is a Ring-Necked Dove. His eyes are bright cherry red and his beak and feet are pale pink. His feathers were in rough shape when he arrived, but he soon went through a molt. His new feathers grew in pristine and he is now resplendent in his new suit of shining white feathers.
From what I read about doves, Piper’s cooing meant he was becoming a mature bird and he was calling for a mate. I went to the Internet and was surprised to learn that there is a Domestic Bird Club in Alaska. I contacted them, requesting a dove. It wasn’t long before I had a reply. A couple in Anchorage was looking for a home for their dove. Turns out they also wanted to come up to the ranch to pick raspberries, so they made a date to drive up with the dove.
They arrived with a pale brown Ring-Necked Dove in a large cage. This dove had been found a few years before, wandering the streets of Anchorage. Apparently it had either gotten loose or someone had turned it loose. It had been in three foster homes before this couple had taken it in. They wanted to keep it, but now they were starting to travel Outside and didn’t want to stress the bird with placing it with caretakers. They wanted to find the dove a permanent home. This dove also cooed, so we all assumed it was a male. Our greatest concern was whether it would get along with Piper. According to what I had read, Doves are gentle birds, and even males rarely fight. I was hoping they would be good companions.
I was pleased to replace the rabbit cage with the larger dove cage, and the next morning I moved Piper in with the new dove, who was named “Sweetpea”. True to their gentle natures, they settled in together without incident. They both cooed and added a pleasant undertone to the sometimes harsh calls from the parakeets. I let the doves out everyday to fly around the cabin. Piper tended to follow Sweetpea around, landing next to the dove, then they’d start preening. As far as anyone knew, Sweetpea is a few years old, so I figured the much younger Piper was looking to Sweetpea as a kind of mentor.
I few weeks after Sweetpea arrived, I noticed a change in the doves. Piper started moving in close to Sweetpea, leaning down so his head was low, then rapidly vibrating his wings while cooing. This went on for a couple of days, then one afternoon Sweetpea responded by grooming Piper all over his head. Piper sat up very straight, then faced Sweetpea, and opened his beak wide. Sweetpea inserted its beak into Pipers red mouth, seeming to act as though feeding him. I wondered what this was about.
The next morning I was astounded to find a large white egg on the floor of their cage. Sweetpea is a female!! According to what I had read, only the males coo, but apparently Sweetpea hadn’t read the same literature. I set about making a nest for her. I didn’t want them to raise babies, as I didn’t know anyone who would want a dove, so I replaced the egg with a ‘dummy’ egg. Sweetpea dutifully sat on the egg the full 31 days, then I removed it. A week later she laid another.
And so it has gone. Piper wants to take turns sitting on the egg, and also wants to sit next to Sweetpea on the nest, so I needed to make a larger nest to accommodate them both. They take turns coming out to fly each day, landing on their favorite spots in the cabin to preen and stretch their wings. They also like to walk on the floor, so I give them food treats on the rug. When it’s clear that the egg isn’t going to hatch and I have removed it, they come out to fly together, landing side by side and sometimes grooming each other. When courtship begins again, they get all, well…”lovey-dovey” and play kissy-face and do the wing-vibrating dance again.
Doves in Alaska? May I say yes? They are a pleasure to have in the cabin. I placed Piper out in the May Day tree when the weather was warm, before Sweetpea arrived, and he seemed to enjoy sitting on one particular branch, watching the little songbirds coming and going around him. He had no interest in flying away. Sweetpea, however, having already been loose in Anchorage, was used to flying, so when she arrived, I stopped putting Piper outside. They seem to enjoy exploring the cabin, and Piper likes plucking all my paintbrushes out of the holder on my art desk when he lands there. Sometimes the doves will land on top of the parakeet’s cage and walk around. The parakeets can come and go out of their cage, too, but rarely do so. They are ‘homebodies’ and like to stay in their cage and play with their many toys and each other. They watch their large neighbors walk on their roof with interest, and sometimes yell at them. While the parakeets imitate the bell on the microwave to perfection, they haven’t started imitating the dove’s cooing.
I’d be interested to learn of other people’s dove stories. If you have one to share, drop me a line at: [email protected]
By Robin Song