Spotted Dove as Pet?

It is the second time in less than a year that I am hand-feeding a lost Spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis) chick. The first time it happened was after a powerful typhoon blew the helpless baby bird to my neighbour’s garden where it sat still, wet and confused, waiting for a predator to have an easy meal. I used a mixture of soft millet and special powder for lories and lorikeets which I dissolved in water, heated up to 40°C and fed to the bird’s beak with the help of a long, narrow syringe, twice a day. I repeated the procedure with the most recent victim and I am happy to say that, after a week of feeding it, the chick is doing great!

One substantial difference between last year’s case and this one is the fact that last year the chick’s parents were around, worryingly observing the proceedings from a nearby tree. As such, my task was much simpler – the parents used every opportunity to feed their baby and once the young bird was capable of flying, I simply let it go. After a day or two that it spent in one of the trees in our garden, it disappeared into the wilderness and I’ve never seen it since. I was happy in the knowledge that the young bird’s parents were there to guide their offspring and to teach it the necessary survival skills. In fact, even though I fed the bird for a week, it still showed signs of fear whenever I approached it, which I thought was good.

Things are different this time. The baby dove currently in my possession is obviously an orphan, with no one to look after it, except myself. As a result, it is getting more and more attached to me. When we are outside it always flies to wherever I happen to be in the garden and it often just hops onto my shoulder or top of my head, just for fun. It happily responds to my calls and it flaps its young wings excitedly every time I appear in its line of vision. I expected the chick to fledge and simply fly away, just like the last one, but now I am starting to wonder whether it will try to hang around our house for days and weeks to come. After all, the bird clearly understands that I have limitless supply of quality food that I am happy to share, so it makes sense to stay.

For the first few days, while the chick still couldn’t fly, I kept it inside the house to protect it from the neighbourhood cat and also from snakes which appear around the house from time to time. Yesterday was the first day that I left the bird in the fig tree outside our house and it remained there all day. I still brought it in for the night. Today is the young bird’s second day in the fig tree, but this time it must have gotten bored with the same leaves around and, after a while, it jetted over to another tree for a change of scenery. The young dove sits fairly high on a branch, so I’ll need a ladder to get it down when tonight’s feeding time arrives.

Spotted dove (Spilopelia chinensis)

One part of me wants the bird to stay around for a bit longer, to hang around the house, even to land on my shoulder from time to time if it so desires. But there is another part which hopes that the wild animal will eventually go where it belongs – to its natural environment where it can grow up, learn to find food, seek a mate and produce offsprings. After all, the young dove didn’t arrive into my life as a pet, but as a victim that needed help to survive. Still, I keep wondering whether this growing bond between the bird and myself will allow it to make a successful transition back to the wilderness…

3 Responses to Spotted Dove as Pet?

  • To see how Ladso feeds the young bird, please get to Cindy’s Facebook timeline.

  • Angela says:

    Hi. I found your post while googling Spotted Doves. I have been taking care of a baby Spotted Dove for almost a month after it fell out of its nest and I couldn’t find the nest to return him. He is now able to fly but seems to prefer hanging around in my tree and coming indoors at night. I can totally relate to your emotions on wanting him to stay with you versus reintegrating him back into the wild. Can you share with me the rest of your journey with your dove please? f you managed to reintegrate him, please let me know how you did it? Thank you.

  • Ladislav Bodnar says:

    Thank you for your post, Angela. Fuli (that’s how I named the bird) is about 5 – 6 months old now and he is alive and well!

    After finding the baby dove, I fed him for about 2 – 3 weeks. I used millet which I put into water for an hour, added some baby bird powder I had bought in a bird shop, heated it up in a microwave oven and mixed it into a pulp. I measured the temperature of the mixture and I only fed the bird when the temperature dropped to below 40°C. I used a plastic syringe for feeding. At first I had to force-open the bird’s beak, but after two days he would open the beak by himself at the sight of the syringe. I did this twice a day and I fed as much as he could take – once he lost interest, I stopped the feeding.

    I kept the dove inside the house, but I took him briefly outside a few times a day. At one stage he started making clumsy attempts at flying – as you probably know by now, they are not very successful at first, but eventually they get it right. After a few days he was able to fly upwards, landing on a branch of a tree. That’s when I decided to stop taking him inside the house. Like your bird, he stayed in the trees around the house, but he would come to me readily whenever he saw me holding the familiar cup and syringe.

    And then, just a few days after becoming “independent”, came a typhoon. I wanted to bring him back into the house just before the arrival of bad weather, but it so happened that I couldn’t get him in before the typhoon hit the area and once the winds and rain arrived, Fuli was nowhere to be found. I didn’t see him for two days. I thought I’d lost him forever, but on the morning of the third day the sun was out again so the first thing I did was go outside to look for the lost friend. Imagine my pleasure when I opened the door and saw the little bird sitting just outside – on a chair in front of the door! I don’t know who was happier – Fuli who was going to get food after two days of starving or me seeing the little guy alive!

    Afterwards I kept feeding him for a few more days, but slowly I introduced some hard millet seeds and he was eventually able to eat them by himself. That’s when I stopped using the syringe and started giving him seeds only. He was around me a lot – sometimes I would sit outside the house and work on my computer and he would be there with me – sitting on my shoulder or my thigh or on the table near the computer. When I was doing something in the garden, he would forage on the grass near me. Sometimes he would disappear for a while, but he was never too far away.

    Now, some six months after I found him, he is still around. Although he lives outside, I still treat him as a pet by giving him food. He comes to the house at least once a day; if I am outside he lands on the lawn next to me or sometimes on my shoulder or the top of my head. If I am inside the house, he goes to windows where I can normally be found – the kitchen, the study or the bedroom balcony on the first floor. He looks inside to see where I am. These doves are a lot more intelligent than I imagined! He doesn’t ever go to any other person, so clearly he is able to recognise me well.

    Despite my looking after him, things are not always easy for Fuli. It seems that these doves are pretty territorial and the area around the house is already occupied by an established couple. I do leave some old bread on the lawn from time to time, so they come here often. And they chase Fuli away! Sometimes I have to stay with Fuli while he is eating otherwise the resident pair would chase him away! He always comes back after a while, but still. So far he hasn’t found a mate (of course, Fuli might be “she” for all I know), so he is always alone.

    As for the integration with his natural habitat, I am not so sure about that. My intuition tells me that if I disappeared tomorrow he’d be able to survive on his own. But he has been so profoundly marked by my presence in his life, from the early days of his existence, that it would be very very hard. I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t think he’ll ever be truly integrated. But it’s also possible that, the day when he finds a mate, things will become different. We’ll see… In the meantime I find this whole relationship rather special and it gives me a lot of pleasure too.

    I think the behaviour of your bird is similar to mine – he also stayed around the house at first, but slowly he started examining areas further away. Doves, like pigeons, seem to have excellent sense of orientation, so it’s unlikely he’ll get lost. The question is, whether we should keep feeding them after they mature – if we do, they’ll become dependent on us, but if we don’t we would worry about their ability to survive. For me, it’s really hard not to give Fuli some food once he comes to look for me. Maybe it’s wrong, but since I’ve already interfered with the nature (by rescuing him from a certain death), I feel responsible. It’s a dilemma. For now I feel happy with the way things worked out and, as far as I can tell, Fuli is pretty happy too 🙂

    If you find some time, please let me know how things are going with your baby dove. I actually get quite a lot of visits on this page, mostly from Google searches, so I imagine we are not alone who found a lost baby dove.

    Anyway, thanks again for writing and good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *