Baby Dove

baby Eurasian collar dove

“Did you see the baby bird on the ground near our garden fence?” asked a next door neighbor. “Um, no.” He asked if I’d like to see him, which of course I did, and he brought me a small wire basket lined with a dish towel upon which quietly lay a small downy baby bird. He reassured me that he and his wife had googled the bird’s description and were fairly certain it was a dove. Next big question. “Would you like to take him?” Wow. OK.

I gingerly took the basket and brought him home and began immediate research. Within minutes I had transferred him to one of my baskets, lined with long grasses and rose petals. This was a nice photo op, and looked pretty but further research revealed that grasses hold moisture, not what a baby needs. I added a layer of soft white cloth and a knitted piece to keep him warm. I then placed the basket down inside a deep green plastic container I normally used to hold cuttings from the garden. Over the top I placed a large very soft scarf to protect him and I left the entire arrangement on the picnic table for the afternoon and brought him indoors at night. In retrospect I think this was a good choice as it’s possible the parents might well have been watching me.

That afternoon I looked carefully for a nearby nest, searching trees with binoculars. Nothing made itself known. To my knowledge there was no bird rehab center going on in this county. This little guy was dependent upon me. I took this task upon myself quite willingly, feeling humbled and deeply moved by the unexpected arrival. It was not without feeling simultaneously what I would come to describe as “the need to replicate a mother or father dove’s skills based on the genetic memory of thousands of years.” No small task. Thank goodness for Google, though we all know those rabbit holes can be treacherous, rife with misinformation and bad advice. I found the International Dove Society and another similar site and watched vid after vid. A FB friend hooked me up with some women in the UK who sent me another link about feeding baby doves.

What one needs to know about baby doves (and pigeons) is that they do not feed as songbirds. The archetypal peep peep peep I’m hungry cry and willing mouths spread open is not what you are going to get with a baby dove. No. They rely instead on pushing their beaks (and thus their heads) down the throats of their parents to garner a sort of milk in the parents’ throats. Learning this tasked me with needing to find what felt like a reliable formula I could feed my new charge. Using research and intuition I ended up mixing in my blender boiled chicken, hard boiled egg yolk, brewer’s yeast, a bit of Vitamin B, a teeny bit of yogurt and a bit of warm water. If you ever find yourself in this unlikely situation look for the recipe of something called MacMilk online–created by a veterinarian. I adapted my mix from that. And he began to thrive.

Baby Eurasian collar dove

Had I been trained I would have gotten a proper syringe and filled it with formula and pushed it gently into the crop of the baby dove. Since you can asphyxiate a dove if you do this wrong I opted instead to take my time (meaning 20-30 minutes) and give him the formula drop by drop in his mouth. And there is a trick to opening that mouth, which I learned after finding a vid of a guy in SoCal who showed us that you have to gently pinch the far back of the beak and this (more or less) gets the baby to open enough to feed him. Though it’s messy no matter how you do it (and some techniques are very messy!), and you have to actually clean him up with a soft warm wet cloth so he does not have formula in his feathers. Oh, my goodness. I fed this little one every two to three hours throughout the day and let him (and me) sleep at night, though I did get up a few nights to change out a hot water bottle I had placed next to the nest to be sure he maintained body temperature he needed. Dove parents keep babies warm until they can manage their own body temperatures and then they basically decide they are ready to fledge. I had that in my favor, as I knew he would mature quickly and be ready to fledge within the week.
Here he was after a few days indoors.

Yes, this was a LOT of work. But I loved every moment and regarded it as an exceptional deeply rooted spiritual experience. #HashtagMothering

At some point I rang a bird rescue center in Sonoma County, and later one in Marin, which was helpful. I knew what I was doing was “illegal” but as I pointed out, we are in the middle of a pandemic. The Sonoma Center only takes native birds and getting in the car and driving to Marin for a near hundred mile trip was not happening, especially as I was confident the parents were nearby. The Sonoma center had me text down a vid and confirmed this little one was a Eurasian collar dove, who has not been in the States as long as the more common mourning dove, and that it was their opinion he was a fledgling. I took that to heart, and was encouraged, actually, but I wanted some reassurance he was strong enough to maybe make the transition on his own. Though I could hear the parents nearby I had no guarantee they might take over the job, though I did entertain a possible co-parenting arrangement. Haha.

As baby dove became stronger I began to take him out of doors. On one of those occasions the parents showed up–one on the roof of my house, one in a large tree close by. I repeated this the next day and the doves reappeared, first one parent, then the next, and landed in one of my butterfly bushes in the garden. It was an extraordinary almost mystical moment–one I will never forget. I decided then that baby was ready. Early the next morning I fed him and carried him in the basket to the picnic table. I set him down, and walked away, and within a couple of minutes he flew off into an heirloom walnut tree in the garden. Once he had flown I really could not see him again.

Here are his final moments with me.

Over the next few days I watched for him, knowing that was about me, not about him. And listened carefully to the comings and goings of the parent doves, tracking their moving about the neighborhood, hoping they had, indeed, taken it upon themselves to resume feeding their fledgling.

This was a most extraordinary experience that I am most grateful for. Have you had an experience like this?

Love and garden blessings,
Kathryn xoxo

Book Notes: Many thanks to any of you who bought copies of Plant Whatever Brings You Joy as Mother’s Day gifts. Appreciated! Amazon noticed and ordered extra copies. Perhaps you have a father who would also enjoy? Father’s Day coming up!

8 Responses to “Baby Dove”

  1. Yes, we managed to successfully fledge a baby Robin that fell out of his nest and a pair of wild rabbit babies when I was a kid in Indiana on the farm. The rabbit experience was one successful among a lifetime of unsuccessful attempts initiated by various dogs and cats coming home with gifts. One time we did succeed, fed them with doll bottles that we had for puppy litters. We simply made up a milk and beaten raw egg yolk mixture that we used for weaning puppies and kittens. It worked, they then moved up to lapping the milk mixture and then eating fresh grasses and clovers that we collected every morning. They finally got big enough to release, which they did, but never tamed at all.
    The Robin experiment was much more rewarding. When we found him, I could not have been more than a few days old. The parents were rallying around but the nest was very high in an old tree and we could not get back up that high to put him in. Robins eat worms and insects from birth so we began the hunting and feeding routine from dawn until into the evening. He was a prodigious eater. As his flight feathers came in, we moved him out of his box and put him on the enclosed porch with tree limbs to perch on. He taught himself to fly. Finally we figured he was able to take care of himself and released him. We assumed we would never see him again but he had imprinted and was with us all summer. He demanded that my dad dig him worms each morning, he would ride on our shoulders or on our heads when we went out to play. Slowly the other robins in the yard accepted him and that fall, he migrated south with the flock. Since we had not banded him, we have no idea if he came back the next spring but we always hoped that he did. That was about 60 years ago but I still remember the experience vividly.
    Thanks so much for sharing your story and the happy ending.

  2. Thanks, Julie! I love your robin story! Yes, the imprinting can be something to be cautious about. Glad yours was happy being wild. Kathryn xoxo

  3. Dear Kathryn,
    I always get excited when I see one of your posts in my email. This one was thrilling. You seem to have done all the right things: research, adapting your basket lining, patience on feedings, and I’m thinking you were calm through all of this. (think I would have been a worry-mess)
    Loved hearing your voice on the sweet video.
    Glad the parents didn’t give up on your little house guest and hope someday you see this bird stopping off to say hello.

  4. Aww, thanks, Carol! This was quite the adventure! And guess what? This morning as I walked my dog Thistle I spotted a sleek juvenile on the sidewalk that I’m pretty darn sure was a fledged dove! And there were dove parents nearby. So maybe?? 🙂 I’d like to think so! Thanks, as ever, for you kind comment! Kathryn xoxo

  5. Such a tender tale. Never had this experience, the video was very touching. Gracias, Kathryn.

  6. We have had several pigeons. They tame somewhat. Well one in particular became my husband’s pet. Another fond memory is one who did return to his cousins rather quickly after a lot of the attention you mention. Feeding them is a challenge. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

  7. Thanks, Patrice! I’m happy I was able to share it with you! XOXO Love, Kathryn

  8. Hi, Alice–So glad you’ve had this experience. Yes, doves and pigeons are among those birds who drink that milk in the throat of their parents. They must be hardwired differently, though, as I read at the Canadian Dove Society that in that president’s experience, whenever a dove is given the chance to fly away, they do. He said, “These are not homing pigeons.” I kept this baby dove mostly in a quiet room, mostly covered. I only uncovered him to feed him, and while he was not at all fearful of me–he sat on my lap as I fed him and flapped his wings at the sight of me–in retrospect I was glad I did as I did, to give him a better chance at being wild. My story got a bit long, so I actually left out that one other time I took him out (prior to the doves in the butterfly bush) and he flew a very short distance into my lemon tree. The parents were close by but did nothing, nor did baby dove. I waited and then decided I needed to bring him back in. I said, “You’re not ready and neither am I,” and I walked over to the lemon tree and gently picked him up which he readily accepted. It was special and I felt honored throughout. Kathryn xoxo

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