Just another typical day, I was taking care of my baby birds in the afternoon when I received a phone call from the feed store where I get my shavings. She said someone had brought in two baby birds. Apparently, they were trimming trees and the nest was in one of the branches that was trimmed. She had no idea what kind of birds they were. She did know they were not fledglings. They were not feathered. They were covered with yellow down. Normally, I give out the number to the local wildlife rescue facility and tell people to bring baby birds there. But the yellow down had me curious. I did not know any wild baby birds in the area that fit that description. Perhaps they were wild baby quakers?
Curiosity got the better of me and I headed on up to the store to take a look. Here is what she brought out (first picture). Well, they certainly were not baby quakers LOL! I admit, it took me a few minutes to figure out what they were. Do you know what these are? They are baby mourning doves! At first, I thought they were pigeons, but as they started to feather out they showed the tan coloration of doves (second picture).
I went ahead and took them home and was very careful not to expose them to my other birds. I set up a bin for them and they were comfortable. The next issue was how to feed them? Pigeons and doves do not eat like parrots. I called my friend Helen who has experience taking care of all kinds of critters. She said doves suck the food from the parents crop. So after thinking about it for a bit, I put a small white feeding tip on a syringe and fed them that way. Sort of a modified gavage feeding technique. It worked beautifully. The doves ate well from the very first feeding.
They grow extremely fast as you can see from the pictures. As they got a little older, I would put them outside in a cage during the day so they could watch the wild birds and not acclimate too much to domestic life (people, our dogs, etc.) My intention was to release them. It is very important when taking care of wild birds for release that they maintain a certain amount of fear of dogs, humans, etc. This fear keeps them from becoming an easy meal for a predator. In the evening, I would put them in a roost cage inside to keep them safe.
While they were young, I carried them around in a basket and showed them the backyard. Especially where the bird feeder was. This is very important. When they start to fledge, you want them to have some bearing as to where they are. I also put their cage out by the bird feeder in the mornings so they could meet the other wild doves and watch them eat. This was my husband's idea and was very helpful. They would get very active around the wild doves. I could see them flapping in the cage and eating, etc. Some of the wild doves started even hanging around the cage.
Eventually, they took their first flight! At first, the flights were short. They were careful to stay around me, limiting their area to the deck. They really liked hanging out on top of the grill! Then gradually, they ventured out a little farther. Their favorite spot for a while was in the palm tree in our backyard. They would stay out for a couple of hours, then meet me by the back door for handfeeding. Then I would put them in the cage for the night.
In the mornings, I would let them out. I timed it so that I let them out late morning, as sometimes we have hawks that hunt early while it is still cool. At first, they would take their handfeeding and off they would go! Then they did not want the morning feedings any more. Sometimes I would see them during the day, sometimes not. But then around 3:00, they would fly to the back door waiting for their meal!
To my surprise, the younger dove started to wean first. It was funny, both would come in and the younger one would take a little sip and then fly out of my reach as if to say, don't put me in the cage anymore! I admit, the first time they were out all night I was a bit anxious. I was relieved when they came in the next morning and I knew they were okay!
Then, one of the doves came in with a beak injury. Nothing serious, just the tip had broken off. A little bit of blood, but looked like it would be okay. I decided to watch it a day or so and see what happens. Then the next day, there was some swelling behind the injury and more of the beak broke off. Not good. It looked like the beak was on it's way to becoming infected.
I placed the dove on antibiotics and cleaned up the beak. I was still letting him out during the day but put him up for the night for a few days so I could take care of him. He was not happy about this and couldn't wait to get out to fly in the mornings!
The antibiotic worked beautifully and the beak has since healed and has started growing back. This has however, delayed weaning a bit. At this time (7/16/09), he still meets me at the back door around noon every day and takes about 30 cc's of formula. As soon as he's done though, he turns around and takes off for the trees.
I no longer have their cage on the deck. I keep food and water in their spot so they can grab a bite if needed. Today, I saw the younger dove. She came up to grab a bite and a drink. When she saw me, she was gone. She has reverted back to being wild which is wonderful! As I mentioned before, the older dove still visits and I will continue to feed him as long as he needs it. Which I expect will not be much longer.
It is always bittersweet to take care of the wild ones. It is fascinating to watch them grow and fledge. My husband loves it when I go outside and the babies fly down to me from the trees. He says it reminds him of Snow White! As you are raising them though, you have to hold back your heart. It's easy to fall in love with these beautiful creatures. But they are not ours to keep. I have to be satisfied that I gave them a good start in life. They have grown up strong and hopefully will make babies of their own someday.
For now, I am enjoying the remaining days of seeing my beautiful wild doves and being a part of their life. But I know the day will come when they will not meet me at the back door any more. It's been fun. Fly free and be safe, little ones.