Friday, 28 December 2007

Establishing the pecking order

Today, 28th Dec o7, I noticed another dove in one of the nesting box holes of the dovecote. As I went out to see who it was, it flew out and pushed its way into John's one..... and was speedily pushed out again by the owner himself! As it flew away I saw the green ring. Francis is obviously trying to take over the prime position in the dovecote from his father!

Later on today I saw Iona (yellow ring) actually mating with a female, right on top of the dovecote.

Maybe my Easter boys will bring new life back home in this coming year. I do hope so.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

John was away on Christmas night

Boxing Day 2007

My dove, John, didn't spend Christmas night in the dovecote but today he was back and I noticed him displaying courting behaviour. He either has a new lady friend or is on the pull! Obviously I would be delighted if he brought a female back to nest in the dovecote. I can't forget poor Lily, but life and love must go on.

Also today there were an obvious male/female pair on the roof of the dovecote and when I approached cautiously I could see the male had a yellow ring and was my Iona (yes I know he has a girl's name but you can't tell a dove's sex when it is a baby).

Later on today, as well as John, there were two other doves in different sections of the dovecote and I hoped they would stay the night.... but they didn't.

So things are looking very hopeful at the moment, and there are still currently 20 -30 doves visiting on a daily basis.

There is one bit of sad news. Poor Speckles succumbed to paramyxo, and my husband's son, who is a gamekeeper, had to finish him off for me. I feel terrible about this.... but what is worse.... the poor thing was completely disorientated and couldn't even land on the feeding table (huge garden table)..... he would have starved to death. He was a beautiful dove with a lovely speckled pattern and feathered feet. RIP Speckles my dear.
The photo is of Speckles, some months ago.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Glimmer of hope for John

Nov. 27th '07

Sunday started badly - when I opened the door to let the dog out and feed the doves first thing in the morning, I found a dead dove with its head bitten off in the yard just outside our gate - white feathers everywhere. Very unpleasant, but thankfully not John, and I must be getting hardened to these losses. We don't know if it was fox, cat, mink or hawk.

Yesterday (Monday) when I came home it was already dark and John wasn't in the usual nest box. But there was a dove in a different one. This is unusual, and of course not being able to see his ring, I don't know if it was John or not.

Today, John was in his usual box and flew out early to join the others on the roof - later he went back in the box, and another dove flew up, peeked into a nestbox, and entered. And stayed a while!

I'm hoping that another dove, or pair, will 'home' here and we will have new families. Of course I also hope that John finds a new mate.

The only downside would be if the new dove/s drive John away.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

How John is coping

It is a week today since poor Lily died.

The first day or so, John behaved fairly normally, although seemed rather lonely and appeared to be looking around for Lily, although I knew he had known she was ill.

Then he seemed to become depressed in a way - I don't know if that is possible in birds. I suppose it must be. I noticed that he wasnt coming out of the dovecote and kept a close eye on him. Eventually I decided to get the steps, and put some food up in the nestbox for him. He pecked at it, and then flew down to the water bowl on the lawn, then back to hedge - stretched his wings - and back into the nestbox. The weather of course has been very rainy and/or gloomy which hasnt helped, but there has been sunny periods.

I have kept putting food up for him, but it occurred to me today that as doves (pigeons) have no qualms about fouling their home, then it must be getting pretty gross in there by now, and not very healthy.

I agreed with my husband that if he still was not out by the weekend then we would have to take him out, at least while I cleaned the nestbox.

Today, as the sun shone, he came out and flew to the roof where there were about eight other doves, and preened himself. I shot out to clean out the nestbox, and put fresh hay in there. He has now gone back in but at least it is clean, and he has 'socialised' a bit.

My poor widowed dove - I hope he finds a new mate for the spring.

PS I have now added one of the last pictures of John and Lily together.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Lily died today

My bright, beautiful and beloved dove, Lily, died this morning.

I knew she was poorly as she had sat, hunched up, all day yesterday on the roof, hardly moving. John, her mate (named after my father) sat with her for most of the day, but as the sun started to go down, he went and ate and drank, and then went to bed in the normal place in the dovecote.

I watched Lily anxiously but there was nothing I could do. Eventually she edged slowly along the roof, until she was nearer the end of it, and nearer the dovecote, and the hedges where I put the food pans. I called her and put out food in front of her to see if I could encourage her down, but she stayed the night on the telegraph wire, near to the roof.

This morning I went out into the frosty garden at 7.00 am and she was just outside our gate, in the gravelled yard, on the ground. She couldnt fly, and made a feeble attempt to run away, but I netted her and put her in my 'hospital' box while I thought what to do. She wasnt showing any symptoms of paramyxo. Of course, I put food and water in the box, but she didnt appear to touch either.

My husband and I agreed that it seemed a good idea to put her back in the dovecote with food and water, and see what she did. I took her out of the hospital, having set up the steps, and put food and water in the dovecote. She seemed to change, but I put her in the dovecote anyway. Now I think she died then, in my hands, and maybe it wasn’t a good idea to move her from the hospital. But she has been handled many times before, and not died, and picking up a bird carefully doesn’t kill them, and I knew she was poorly anyway…..

I watched the dovecote on and off for two hours, but she didn’t move and very soon I noticed a fly or two around, so I went and put the steps up again and I could tell she was dead.

I am very sorry indeed to lose her, and concerned that John will fly away, as Pax did when Persephone was killed. I still see her Easter babies, Francis and Iona, with the feral flock, but they don’t home here.

Later on I gave poor Lily a lovely funeral with a little posy of small pink, white, blue and yellow flowers picked from the garden tucked into her feet, and sent her on her way down the river. She looked so white and beautiful that I took a photo of her first - some might think that macabre, but I don't.

John sat on the roof and another white dove kindly kept him company. I don’t think I could have borne it if he had to sit alone. He went to bed in the normal place in the dovecote at quarter to four. The other doves in the feral flock will come tomorrow and mostly at least some stay around all day. I hope he will find another mate out of them, but it is more likely, I suppose, that he will succumb to the virus. I presume Lily had paramyxo, although thankfully none of the distressing symptoms of head-twisting and turning round and round. And at least I didnt have to take her to the vet to be put down.

Lily's life: She was the squab (chick) of Pax and Persephone and hatched on 17.7.06 with her sibling, Columba. In December that year she was injured, presumed shot at, and I nursed her until she was better and able to fly again. Handling during nursing made her the tamest dove we had, and she was never scared to be near me. She mated with John, and became a mother at 8 months old, to Francis and Iona. She had more squabs right at the end of May but they died aged a few days old, and then more in July. They were the Ugly Dovelings who died aged 2 weeks. (More details on all of this in previous blogs) Lily died 15.11.07 aged 16 months. RIP my beautiful dovie angel.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Tommy - more bad news

It never seems to stop. Another pure white dove landed in the garden, and displayed all the symptoms of the upsetting paramyxo virus.

As it is near Rememberance Sunday I named him Tommy.

Again I was in a terrible quandary about what to do. My husband would have 'bumped' him off, but it is not a pleasant job, and I didn't want the poor thing to suffer. The Wildlife Aid place hadn't really been that much help with Seagull and Blanche, so I took Tommy to the local vet.

The vet himself was just going out, but said if I left the dove, and signed a form, he would do it when he got back. I went in and spoke to the nurses - sweet young girls, and sympathetic. They transferred Tommy to one of their boxes, and I signed the form, feeling like an executioner. I suppose I must have signed something when I had my poor old cat, Scissors, put to sleep aged 19 years, ages ago but I don't remember. How the kings and queens of old could have signed real people's death warrants I will never understand.

The vet will do it unless he feels there is a chance of a cure....... I don't hold out any hope.

There were so many doves on the roof today, 47 or 48. John and Lily tend to keep themselves separate from the others most of the time. I am still hoping they will stay well.

Sorry no photos today as they are all on my laptop which is at the menders.

PS The vet rang me late afternoon which was sweet of him as I hadn't asked him to. He felt that it would be kinder to put Tommy down as he had no quality of life - which of course was true. He knew Tommy wasnt my dove, but one of the feral flock, so I wonder if he will bill me for the job?

Saturday, 27 October 2007

RIP Seagull and Blanche..... and Snowdrop

I went up to the Wildlife Aid centre today to enquire after Seagull and Blanche and was told that both had been put down due to the paramyxo virus.

Yesterday morning I found another pure white dead dove in the garden. It was a delicate young bird so I named it Snowdrop.

Not much I can do, but it is upsetting.

(photos are recent ones of the feral flock - the one on the ladder is Spike)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Dead Dove/Pigeon

I call the birds that appear half dove/half pigeon 'dove/pigeons'. Not long after posting yesterday's blog I noticed a hunched up dove/pigeon on a low part of my roof. It was obviously ill so I thought I'd be able to reach it and put it in isolation. By the time I'd got the net and the steps it had moved way out of reach.

By 8pm it had gone, and checking the undergrowth in the flower bed below I found it's poor dead body. It was a beautiful bird - white but shadowed all over with grey. I retrieved Shadow and sent him to a watery grave in the river. Now, thinking about it, maybe I should have kept him as I hope to see a vet today and discuss the whole paramyxo thing - but Hub3 recommended I dispose of him in the river and I just didn't think.

Of course he may not have had the virus, he may have died or something else or old age - but I doubt it.

I feel we have got the plague. As I type the sun is shining on the dovecote making it brilliantly white - and John or Lily is peeping out. Lord of Nature - please look after my doves.


I went up to a new vets that is very local to where I live - only five mins in the car. It's in an old barn, but sympathetically modern inside, and the staff were very friendly. I was able to have an informal chat with the vet, immediately - no waiting, wow! Not like that at my old vets. He also gives his time at the Wildlife Aid centre mentioned before and basically said the same as the vet I saw up there - nowt much one can do about it. Paramyxo is always with us.

Nothing to do with doves, but I also spoke to him about my Yorkshire Terrier's teeth, and I will make an appointment to take him up there so that I get a second opinion on whether a cleaning op will be necessary, and how it will affect him (he has a collapsed trachea).
The photo is an old one, showing some of the doves swinging on the telegraph wire.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Highly Contagious Virus

As mentioned in the last blog I took poor ill Blanche up to the wildlife aid centre last Saturday. The car park was full - it had been empty the last time I went with Seagull. Fortunately I didn't have to wait and even more fortunately I was able to speak to a very helpful young man on the desk and also the vet on duty (all staff are volunteers).

The vet knew Seagull and discussed Blanche with me. She said that they have Paramyxo virus which is carried by feral pigeons and is highly contagious. I have now found this condition in my dove book - must have overlooked it before - and it says it is not always fatal. However, as one of the symptoms is being unable to fly very well then of course it is pretty well going to be fatal as the dove would get caught and eaten!

At first the vet seem disinclined to take Blanche in - I didn't plead but she changed her mind and did so even though we had discussed the possibility of either me taking her home for Hub3 to despatch or being given an injection at the centre.

The vet said that paramxyo is endemic in the feral pigeon population and not much can be done about it. She suggested that we get rid of any feral doves that start showing the symptoms.* This will be unpleasant but Hub3 is not squeamish about such things.

I am going to see a local vet at a practice nearby and want to discuss how this may affect my own doves - John and Lily - and what can be done about it. The book says they can be vaccinated or vaccine added to drinking water. It would not be easy at all to catch John and Lily. And Francis and Iona I only see occasionally at the afternoon feeding time.

The wildlife aid centre recommended a disinfectant called Trigene and that's something else I will have to try to track down.

I would like both Blanche and Seagull back if they recover, and will pop up to the centre in two weeks to check on their progress.

* watery droppings, unpleasant smell. Birds trembling, shivering, falling over and twisting their necks. Limping and inability to fly.
PS The photo is not of Blanche, but is an old one of Hub3 holding another pure white dove, like Blanche - probably Lily.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Seagull's Story

Seagull is a dove/pigeon that was visiting my garden in the summer. I'm not sure when I first noticed him but he is quite distinctive as you can see from the photo - with markings that reminded me of a gull.

One day he was sitting on the hedge where the food pans are and didn't fly away as I came in the gate. This is unusual for all of the doves, except my Lily. None of them, except her, are that tame. Doves are easily frightened, jumpy creatures; they know they are prey instinctively and are always watching out.

I observed Seagull for a while, and took photos. He looked ok but after a while I realised was doing something peculiar with his neck. twisting it round and round. When I discovered that he couldn't fly properly I trapped him with my dove net (a medium sized pond net) and put him in my small dog's car carry box as a 'hospital' - with food and water of course.

Every day, for a week, I put him, in the box, out on the hedge so he would get light and air and be able to see the other doves, and at dusk I put him on a shelf in the shed to keep him safe. Every time I cleaned out the box I saw he wasn't getting any better and was concerned as to what to do for the best. My vet is the old one I had before I moved here and is not an avian vet.

It was suggested to me that I took him to a local wildlife aid centre and this seemed a good plan. I took him in the dog's box, which was of course returned to me, and I took a bag of feed with me in case they didn't have anything suitable. This aid centre is the only one in Surrey, and situated fairly near me in Leatherhead. According to their leaflet,they deal with 20,000 wildlife incidents a year and rely on volunteers and donations.
Find them at
Seagull was taken in and given a patient number and I duly paid my donation. I was told to ring in a couple of days to see how he was doing. When I did this I was told he was still alive, but had an infectious complaint and was in quarantine. I rang again a week later and was told the same thing. I asked the woman on the phone what the complaint was and she said she didn't know, she hadn't looked at the notes, just checked he was still alive! Calls are made on a premium line and my last call cost £6 so I have decided it would be cheaper and more productive to drive up to the centre; especially as now (13.10.07) I have another dove (pure white this time) exhibiting the same symptoms. The new dove I will call Blanche.

Only 4 of this flock are mine (John, Lily, Francis and Iona) and only 2 'home' here (John & Lily)so I don't know what I shall do if they all go down with it. I'm hoping that I will be able to see a vet at the centre and see what I can do to prevent the spread of this disease. As all the doves are free to go where they please I am not sure how much I will be able to do. I think it will be a question of survival of the fittest.

I intend to take Blanche up to the wildlife aid centre today (it is open 7 days a week) - with a letter for the vet in case I don't see one. I will update the blog in due course.

All other doves seem well, but we currently have several staying the night, just roosting on the roof, and telegraph pole. John and Lily roost in the dovecote of course. We wondered if the others have been rejected by the main feral flock, or perhaps want to stay the night so they get early and reliable breakfast!

Friday, 7 September 2007

A short update

I have discovered for sure that my Easter baby, Iona, is in fact a male. He and Francis (sex as yet unknown) have often been seen on the roof lately and Iona was showing typical male courting behaviour. I like to know what sex my doves are, and I'm not surprised he's male - he's been big from the start; a very handsome strong dove.

John and Lily have been seen mating a few more times, and the other night spent the night together in one nestbox, but I think it may be well past nesting time for this year...... I hope so.

I have come to the conclusion that the doves have two sittings for dinner! 20-30 come for the first sitting at about 4-5pm and another 10-20 (Iona and Francis included) come about 5-6pm. I feed them all!

I managed to get a picture of Speckles. He's lovely and has feathered feet similar to Joseph's but not quite so impressive.

The photos show (top to bottom) A pair of doves, with male in courting mode (see big neck),Iona, Francis, Iona and Speckles, Speckles.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

The Visitors

This Bank Holiday weekend has been warm, and I have seen John and Lily mating a few times..... well, we will see if anything comes of it.....

In the mornings after the big flock has eaten, they will fly away, but John and Lily soon return to the roof and usually several others come back and spend the day with them. No particular doves or number of doves, but some are usually around. If there are no doves at all in the garden, it seems lifeless and dull, and I scan the sky and usually within minutes some are flying round.
The big flock start gathering again in the late afternoon and by 4 to 5pm they are ready to feed and come down again, all together, and then again fly away. There are so many of them now that when they fly away it causes quite a breeze with their wings if you are standing underneath and its quite breathtaking watching dozens of white birds swoop overhead. As I said before there can be up to 43 now and as I don't want to be feeding the 5000 I only fill the same number of pans of food. I've increased the pans to five, over a period of time, but that's it now - it's survival of the fittest and a fight for the food. Mind you, they often leave some so I assume they get enough, and of course they are free to obtain food anywhere they can find it.

Most of the doves are just pure white and can't be distinguished from the others, but there are some I always look out for.

Of course, firstly I look for my Easter babies - Francis with the green ring and Iona with the yellow. I am pleased to report that they have been seen several times this weekend, and look in very good health. Another I notice I call Pinkie as she has a bright pink ring on and obviously belongs to someone else! She is the only other ringed dove that is currently visiting.

One exceptionally beautiful pigeon/dove is called Joseph because of his amazing coloured coat! He is reasonably tame and I have managed to get several nice photos of him. He has a funny little flick up of feather at the back of his head, and the feather colours round his neck are gorgeous purple and green. He also has crazy feet, with big feathers sticking out from the sides. I'm very fond of him.

We have several brown and white pigeons coming and call them, collectively, 'The Brown Gentlemen'. I managed to get a photo of one near the dovecote but don't know if you can see the colours very well. They appear brown on the roof, but are actually almost plummy pink. We don't know how many of these there are - 3 or 4 probably. These could be, or related to, what are known as 'Tumblers'.

Another beautiful one is 'Speckles' but he is shy and I havent managed to get a photo yet. He is white but is speckled with black, lightly, all over.

One white dove arrived on the roof about a week ago and I was distressed to see it was all bloodied down its breast. Maybe it got caught by a trap or a predator, or got ripped by a sharp spike on something. It fed with the rest, so I hope it would be ok. I managed to get a pic of it the other day, and as you can see the wound is healing well - he's called 'The Wounded Soldier'.

Juvenile doves can be distinguished from the adult because they are slightly smaller and their beaks are longer and more pointed, and they won't be very dominant. Female doves just look more feminine; smaller than males with a more delicate neck. The only way really to tell the difference between the sexes is to observe their behaviour over a period of time, especially when courting.

During the summer the doves moult and I am always picking up their beautiful white feathers from the lawn. If they are not dirty, wet or bedraggled I usually keep them. If I write to people I often pop a few feathers inside, or enclose them with birthday cards, or sometimes I take them out and about with me and leave one somewhere - on a park bench or the middle of a path! Some people believe if they find a white feather then angels are about, so it might make them happy!
The photos show, from the top: John and Lily walking on the roof after mating, one of the Brown Gentlemen, Approx 29 doves gather for feeding, Wounded Soldier and friend, John and Lily sitting close together (Lily is crouching), Doves lining up on the roof, two photos of Joseph, John and Lily loved up on the dovecote roof. I think if you click on them they enlarge and you can see them more clearly.

So it is now the 27th August 2007 and I will only write in this blog again when I have something particular to say about my doves. Thank you for reading and showing an interest in my doves.

This blog is dedicated to my darling doves:

Pax - Please come home.
Persephone - RIP.
Irene - Missing, assumed dead.
Columba - Missing, assumed dead.
Tiny babies - RIP
Dovelings - RIP

and my beautiful living doves: John, Lily, Iona and Frances and the visitors, who add beauty to our garden and enhance our lives.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Bath time

As I said the Ugly Dovelings died aged only just over 2 weeks (details in blog Wed. 1st August RIP Baby Dovelings). If they'd only survived another 2 weeks they would have been ready to come out of the nest.

I didn't have time to do anything more than clean out the nestbox, which was a horrendous task as I was going to collect my elderly mother from my sister's home that morning. If it had happened at another time, I might have had a PM done on the second baby's body. I believe now that they died from malnutrition and/or poisoning, due to granular fertiliser that the lawn people had put down on the lawn and the parents had picked up and fed to the babies. The doves always have plenty of their own food available and fresh water. In future, we will make sure the lawn is not treated if the doves have babies.

I don't want to dwell on this anymore. I've found it incredibly painful that the last two lots of squabs have died, and if it was to happen again then I will have to take more action to find out why. DJ Kirby suggested (in my comments suggestion) that there just might be something wrong with the parents - I do hope that is not true, although it is a thought. They did have Iona and Francis - but Francis was small and sickly.

Lily took a day or so to realise that the babies were no more and didn't need her, but shortly she and John were billing and cooing again, and I have seen them mating. My gardener, Jay, who is a lovely chap and takes a keen interest in the doves, asked if 'that was end of it for this year?' meaning that the nesting season was perhaps over. I don't know the answer to this. My dove book says that doves can breed all year round, given the right conditions, but doesn't specify what those conditions are. Certainly Pax and Persephone who hatched Columba and Lily in July '06 didnt go on to have any more, and the first babies this year were hatched at Easter. Although I love having a nest, I am so scared now that something would happen to the babies yet again, that I think I would be quite glad if we didn't have any more this year. The weather is still so damp and miserable I can't see it would be a very good start in life for them, although this weekend it has cheered up.

So what do the doves do all day? Well, John and Lily except for occasional fun flies where they soar up in the sky and circle round a few times are generally close to home. They sit on the roof, sometimes very still, or they preen. Sometimes they come down to the lawn and walk about wherever they like, pecking at the grass or the flowerbeds or the gravel. They rarely sit in the nearby trees, although Iona used to when she had first learnt to fly. Their feeding pans are on the hedge cos Hub3 said they were wrecking the lawn when I used to feed them on it. I don't mind feeding them on the hedge, but I miss the pleasure of last summer, sitting on the grass on a sunny afternoon thowing the feed and having them gather all round me. This year, with all the wet, I wouldnt have done much sitting I suppose. Also the grains, if not eaten, get damp and germinate.

I keep a silver square washing up bowl at the side of the lawn near the hedge for the doves to use as a bath. Again because of the rain they have not needed to have a bath that often, as they have a shower instead! But when they feel inclined, and the weather is warm, they do like to have a bath. Wherever I go I am looking for a proper bird bath for them, but either I don't like the design, or its not deep enough. The pecking order applies to bathing as well as feeding. John would normally go first! The doves have a bath to keep their feathers parasite free. Sometimes when they get in they just sit in the water for ages, perfectly still, and then they flap about a few times, spraying the water over themselves and get out. I took some photos the last time. First John got in, and Lily and another dove, probably female, watched him. When he got out, they got in together! After a bath, the doves are all fluffy - they sit on lawn and spread their wings out to dry. I usually go and change the water if I see them bathing so that it is clean for drinking, and it always has a slightly oily scum on top that appears white. Doves also need water just before they hatch their eggs - the female gets her underneaths all wet so that when she sits on the eggs they soften to ease hatching.

Doves habits are not particularly clean - they excrete in the nest box if they feel like it, but they are always so sparkling white that it is a pleasure to look at them. I love white. White flowers are my favourite, and I love my white bedlinen and white towels. I also like white dresses and bikinis on brown bodies!

In the summer the doves are up before me, and waiting on the roof to be fed. There is currently usually about 20 in the mornings. The first thing I do is carry Yorkie out to go for a wee, and then I go and collect the dove food. I buy two types and mix them together - economy feed and conditioner. The last batch of economy I had was from a different company and I wasnt pleased with it at all. It had a large proportion of brown pealike pulses in it and the doves dont like them and leave it. This is annoying cos it is wasteful, costs money and has to be cleared up and thrown away. I complained to the petshop, who deliver my sacks of dove food, and am trying a different economy brand now. The doves currently are costing me about £50 a month. Although I can afford it, I don't really want to be feeding such a big flock - up to 43 birds in the evenings. After all, only 4 are really mine! However, last summer as it went into autumn the feral doves 'moved on' and only my 'homed' birds stayed. This time it may be different - as Hub3 says 'they've found you now!

Hub3 and I do not recognise all the grains in the dove mix. We know there is maize, wheat, barley and some sort of pea which is a pale bluish-green colour. The brown 'pea' we do not recognise.

Other than food and water, it is essential for doves (pigeons) to have grit which is used in their gizzard for grinding down food and is also absorbed into the gut. When the doves were under the homing net I provided a pot of grit, but now they are free they find their own. There is a gravelled parking yard just beyond our gate and they often all fly down there. They also like green stuff and pick up what they fancy in the garden, and eat lichen off the roofs. I love seeing them walk about the lawn.

Oh, I've gone off track - it was morning about 7-7.30 pm and I was going to collect the dove food wasnt I? I keep it in two metal dustbins - metal against the mice of course! and I scoop up several scoopfuls into my big plastic bowl, and take it to the hedge. The doves watch me as I spread the food on several trays and dishes, metal and plastic. Lily often flies down before I have finished. She is the tamest dove probably because she was handled a lot when she got shot. She is quite happy to be right near my hand, but I don't try to touch her. Lily is easily recognised because as well as her pink ring, she has cute feathered feet!

The other doves then fly down all together and feeding frenzy occurs! But doves are very jumpy and the slightest unusual sound and they will all rise up and fly away, landing back on the roof very shortly and coming down to feed again.

There is more to say but no time now so will have to come back again soon .....

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Life, briefly....and death again, more life, more death.

My little flock was happy during May. Sickly baby Francis was now a healthy juvenile, just smaller than Iona. John and Lily were a contented bonded pair. They had reared their babies successfully, and were now thinking of doing it again. Francis tended to stay near John and Lily during days spent on the nearby roof. Iona often would perch away from the others in nearby trees. From the size of her, I think she might be a he, but I do not know her true sex or that of Francis, even now.

Doves courtship pattern is very endearing. The male shows off in front of the female - pacing round and round in circles in front off her, his crop distended with air, lowering his head, fanning his tail. He looks like he is bowing to her. They start billing which is like kissing, and then, if he's lucky, she crouches down and allows herself to be mated (known as the cloacal kiss). The male chooses the nest, and once he has decided you will see the pair of them snuggled up together inside, which looks incredibly cute. Their cooing is very soft and peaceful; but penetrating - I can hear it in the house sometimes.

Once the nest is chosen, both doves will start to bring material to the box. I have a certain amount of hay in the boxes anyway, but they will search and find twigs, pineneedles etc and bring them back; sometimes flying up with such a long bit in their beak that they can't get through the entrance!

The nest is made and the cock becomes very attentive to the hen, following her everywhere and giving her no peace if she doesn't become attached to the chosen site, and start laying! Doves (pigeons) lay two white eggs, hence the expression 'pigeon pair' I suppose. The parents take turns to sit and incubation is about 17/18 days. The male sits during the day, the female at night,but she does the hatching.

During this time we often counted up to 13 doves on the roof, including our four. A pretty dove I called Clementine was often there. I recognised her easily, as she had black on her wings, and a black 'tear-drop' on her cheek. Her mate we called Claudius. Unfortunately we don't seem to see that particular pair any more.

After a while, Iona, strong, white and free-spirited stopped sleeping the nights in the dovecote and flew off with the feral (or someone else's) doves. Little Francis continued to stay close to home and slept the nights in the dovecote as usual. He had 'bagged' the nest box where he was hatched, and seemed very comfortable in it. This is the 'best' nest box - where he and Iona were hatched, and Lily and Columba before them.

At the end of May the new babies were hatched (in the second best nestbox!) and again I was very happy. I blogged about it at the time (Wed. 30th May blog) and how I took a quick photo of the inside of the nest box. The babies were a couple of days old. That photo is shown above. Unfortunately, and for no reason we could discover, those babies died at 2-4 days old. I blamed myself for taking the photo and disturbing the nest, although I didn't touch it of course. I realised that the babies had died when neither parent was going to the nest box. I'm often in the garden and I watch the doves then and I can see the dovecote from my armchair and also from the kitchen window, so I am very much aware of what they are up to.

Of course I decided I would have to check and find out for sure. It was terribly sad; they were tiny little things. Hub3 kindly cleaned them out for me. Maybe there was something wrong with them although they looked ok. Maybe it was my fault. I swore I would never do such a thing again. That was a bad night. The nest had been cleaned out, and there was nothing inside. Poor Lily spent a long time peering inside, then all the doves flew away, and for the very first time since I'd had the doves not a single dove spent the night in the dovecote. It was awful. Even at night I see their little faces peeking out of the windows. The dovecote was forlorn. It was a night of mourning.

I can't explain how I feel about the doves. I love my dog, Yorkie (not his real name) tremendously, and would be truly devastated if he died, despite him being a naughty pickle who wees on the floor if not watched! I am also very attached to 'my' doves. John is the only one left of the original four and he is 'mine' as are any that are born in my dovecote. I care about the visitors too, but am not as concerned about them. The visitors' numbers have crept up and up. There have been as many as 43, and they cost me quite a lot in feed, considering only four are 'mine'! Cee, my eldest daughter, said she wished I didn't get so unhappy when something happened to any of my doves. Why do you have to name them, she asked. Why can't they be just pretty, fluttering things in the garden? Well, my darling, they can't. They are living creatures and I care about their welfare. I don't want anything to die in my garden; even a dead butterfly causes a pang.

John and Lily came back with the other doves the next day, and seemed to understand that the babies were no more.They have both since spent every night at the dovecote, but Francis has joined Iona and is part of the bigger flock now. Immediately John and Lily started the courtship ritual again, and soon were sitting on more eggs. Purplecooers who were reading my blog at the time know what happened. The new babies were christened 'The Ugly Dovelings' by my husband. They hatched successfully, but only lived for just over two weeks, and it was even worse........

The photos show The Ugly Dovelings aged about 2 weeks, John, Lily and baby Francis, playing happy families and the first tiny babies before they died.

To be continued.... I'm nearly up to date, but next blog will say something about our visiting doves, and how my doves are now.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Death..... and Life

One Sunday in March Yorkie jumped off the chair, barking furiously because our neighbour had turned up at the gate. Hub3 and I went out to talk to him. It was bad news. He had seen something white in his garden, in the wild part, and gone out to look. It was our beautiful female dove, Persephone, Pax's mate, and mother of Columba and Lily - she was dead, with her head bitten off. He had brought her body back to us, and it was lying on the gravel. I burst into tears, but thanked him for being kind enough to bring her back. We gave her a water burial in the river.

And now we were down to only three doves. Pax, John and Lily. We didnt know for sure if Lily was male or female, but had reason to assume she was in fact and luckily female! I felt dreadful for poor Persephone. I think she may have been in the wild garden collecting bits for a nest, although there is plenty of material in ours. Or maybe she was caught in the yard, and dragged off to his garden. We assumed the perpetrator was a fox.

I felt even worse for my gorgeous Pax. He spent an anxious day on the roof, occasionally circling round, obviously looking for his beloved mate, and then flew away.* I was not surprised. Doves mate for life, except when something happens to their mate. Maybe he flew away to try and find her, or maybe to find another mate. I felt hollow though. What was happening to my doves and my hopes of a pretty flock in the garden? All I was experiencing was loss after loss.

We were down to two doves - John, definitely male and Lily who had become his new mate. We knew they were nesting, and during the day John would sit on the eggs and Lily, all alone, sat on the roof. Then in the late afternoon they would swap over, and Lily would do the long night shift.

As we approached Easter, it was hard seeing Lily spending all day alone on the roof. Without other doves around her she seemed very vulnerable, and lonely too. Hub3 says she wouldnt be lonely and I shouldnt give the doves human characteristics, but how does he know if she was lonely or not. He's not a dove.

To my joy, the babies hatched and Lily became a mother on 25th March 'o7 at 8 months old .

John and Lily seemed good parents, and looked after and fed the babies.

Yorkie was taught early on not to run after the doves. Despite him not being well-trained in other areas, he seemed to learn this lesson and has never bothered the doves. They can walk about on the lawn right near him and he ignores them. One Saturday however he was fussing about something in the pampas grass, making little rushes towards it and then backing away. I thought it might be a frog or toad and went to investigate. It was one of the baby doves!

I was glad Yorkie had drawn my attention to it; without him I doubt if I would have noticed it, hiding under the pampas grass. I didnt know if it had fallen out or been pushed out, or in fact come out of it's own accord. I named it Francis (or Frances if it should prove to be female) and we ringed it with a green ring. I put food and water near it, and that night Hub3 returned it to the nest box.He's 6'4 so can just reach up - I have to get the steps!

The babies had been in the nest for about four weeks and so it was really time for them to come out but nothing happened until the next Tuesday when a baby tumbled out of the nest on to the grass below. It didn't have the green ring, so wasn't Francis, and I was shocked to see it was double his size! This baby, ringed with yellow and named Iona, had obviously been demanding and getting most of the food!

The photo shows baby Francis hiding in the pampas grass. He looks bigger than he was because it is a close-up and there is no other dove in the photo to compare him to.

Blogs about the doves (and other parts of my life), written at the time, are still on the Country Living Magazine website (archives):

Eggs for Breakfast - Sun 25/3/07
Doves -Good and Bad News - Wed 11/4/07
Quick Dovie Blog - Fri 13/4/07
A Feeling of Freedom - Mon 16/4/07

And also on my other blog here, Faith's Blog:

What a Week - April 26th
My Day - April 27th
Update on Francis - April 30th

I am also writing the story, here, briefly so that I 'catch up' and have it all one one blog, but it makes quite interesting reading (for me anyway!!) to go back and read the old ones.

So, to continue....

Iona came out every day when the parents did, and quickly learnt to fly. Baby Francis, small and sickly looking, stayed in the nestbox.

Baby doves come to the edge of the nest and wiggle their bottoms and excrete. The nestbox was filthy; flies went in and out. The parents were still feeding Francis, but not very enthusiastically. Every day, I got the step ladder out, and using my poopy scoop tool, I scraped up the worst of it, and put seeds and a fresh little bowl of water for Francis. But I was becoming worried about his health. The nestbox stank like a neglected stable.

We were going on a weekend away to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and decided if Francis was not out by the time we came back, we would have to take him out so that the nest box could be cleaned and he could get some fresh air.

We came home on the Monday morning about midday and Francis was not out, so Hub3 put on gloves and reached up and took him out. He was smelly and dirty, but seemed to like being in the sunshine, on the grass, and walked about before hiding under the pampas grass. I cleaned out the disgusting nest but with good spirits as I wanted him to have a nice bed.
Every night we put him to bed, and every morning took him out again, until one day.... he did it himself, and learnt to fly!

And now we were back to four doves - a little family!

To be continued ......

* Pax has never returned.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Missing Doves

The summer was over and we were well into October '06 when I realised my dove, Irene, was missing. Now my little flock was settled I had never thought that something would happen to any of them, or that they would fly away. She didn't return, and John, her supposed mate, didn't seem that bothered. They had never been a proper bonded pair like Pax and Persephone, and I presume the dove people that sent them had just picked a male and a female and sent them off. I was very sorry of course and hoped that she would come back one day.

So now we were down to five doves, and the occasional visitor, although now the summer was over the visiting doves no longer seemed to regard us as 'summer camp'! We had had a ringed racing pigeon amongst the flock for quite a while - long enough for us to name him Eric, but having seen him in a bad way, gasping for breath poor thing, we had assumed he had died.

We live on a farm and not being a country girl born and bred I hadn't considered the shooting season. I don't even know when it starts........ I don't want to know. Every time I heard the guns I was petrified for my dovie angels. I tried to mentally keep them close to the garden and dove-cote by drawing imaginery circles of light around them, but one dreadful day - 2nd December - after the shoot, my exceptionally beautiful dove, Columba, less than five months old, failed to come home and the other 'baby', Lily, came home injured. We could see the blood on her white feathers.

That evening when the doves went to bed in the dovecote, poor Lily tried to follow them, but she couldn't fly. She must have been shot at fairly close to home and just glided, somehow, to the roof. So in the evening, attempting to get into the dovecote, she just tumbled into the hedge.

Hub3 and I rescued her. It stabbed me through the heart to know that men, seeing a small flock of white doves, obviously pets, had deliberately shot at them. I assumed that poor Columba was dead. He was never seen again.

And now we only had four doves.

Hub3 cradled Lily gently in his hands and we examined her. Luckily it didnt seem too bad; grazes rather than anything worse perhaps. We put her in the dovecote, with a few seeds and a tiny bowl of water.

Every day over the next week poor Lily came out of the dovecote and tumbled on to the hedge. She spent the day there, occasionally flapping her poor injured wing and trying to fly to the others. We made sure there was plenty of food for her there and her own water supply. At that time I was still feeding the others on the lawn, but it may have been then that Hub3 started complaining about how they wreck the lawn, and we started putting the pans on the hedge. Every night we caught her and put her safely out of harm's way back in the cote. Every time we checked her injuries and they were healing well,with no sign of heat or infection.

One day I went out shopping and when I came back there was no Lily on the hedge, and no Lily on the lawn or anywhere about. I was devastated and assumed that a predator - sparrowhawk perhaps or a cat or mink - had swooped down and taken her, injured and unable to fly, off the hedge. I felt dreadful., and very responsible, having left her there, a sitting target. I spent a miserable night.

Early the next day however I found her wandering out in the yard, and soon she could fly again and all was well.

The shoots continued and every time I held my breath worrying about what would happen, but all was well. We had our bonded pair, Pax and Persephone, and we had John, and we had Lily.

Now of course we had named Lily but we didn't know if she was male or female. I hoped she would be female, and I hoped that she and John would become a pair. Then we would have two breeding pairs, and our poor little flock would increase again.

The doves didn't mind the winter or the snow. They look stunning and extra white against blue or leaden grey skies. I took some amazing photos of them in the snow, but unfortunately these were lost when our old lap top died and went to heaven.

So we crept slowly towards Spring and I was hopeful that one or both pairs would start nesting again. I didn't know that another dreadful thing was just about to happen.....

To be continued.....

The Doves Return

Pax and Persephone, John and Irene had all flown away and I just stood there in the yard outside our garden gate crying. Hub3, who hates to see me in distress, jumped into one of his vehicles and said he drive round the village seeing if he could see them anywhere. He came back with no news, and I was a crumpled heap of misery in the armchair.

I couldnt settle to do anything. I kept looking out of the window, or going out to scan the sky. The worst thing about it was the babies in the nest box. I made Hub3 promise that if the parents didnt come back he would you-know-what them rather than them suffer a horrible death from starvation.

I had bought a book with dove information in it and it gave the telephone number of a man who has kept white garden doves for many years. Despite it being Sunday, I was so desperate I decided to ring him.

He turned out to be a seemingly very surly gentleman, but doves are obviously his life so after a few minutes he warmed to me and assured me that they probably would be back. Go out and tap a metal plate and put food out, he said in an old fashioned way. Well, I don't have any metal plates, but I improvised and tapped and called. And I prayed very hard!

All day long I worried about the babies. The dove man had said that they wouldnt last longer than 24-48 hours without their parents. In another way I was glad there were babies,because the doves had something to return for. Surely they wouldnt abandon their babies?

I had gone on to our little 'island' which is in the middle of the river adjoining our cottage, and accessed by a rough bridge. From there I could see all of the sky, and some of the garden and the dovecote. I had the binoculars with me. It was late in the afternoon. Suddenly out of nowhere I saw one white dove alight on the fence separating our garden from the river. I held my breath, and crouching low, so as not to be seen I crossed the bridge and went back into the garden and watched from behind some plants.

To be perfectly honest, I can't exactly remember what happened next but one by one, slowly, three of the doves returned and fed, and then, thankfully, fed the babies. Using binoculars I could see the rings, and knew that Irene was the missing one. Eventually, about 7pm, even she had returned and was sitting on the nearby roof. I was so happy and thankful to have my beautiful doves back. (Hub3 breathed a sigh of relief probably!)

Two weeks later the babies, Lily and Columba, were ready to leave the nest and it was amusing to watch the parents trying to entice them out. When they did come out they just sort of fluttery-tumble-plummet straight to the ground. We have some pampas grass near the base of the dovecote. I don't like it particularly but it does afford shelter to baby doves, just out of the nest. Once out, we ringed them: Lily pink and Columba white. I can't exactly remember how long it takes the babies to learn to fly - a few days to a week I suppose. During that time they are very vulnerable to predators, but our garden is wire- fenced, so Yorkie, my tiny Yorkshire Terrier, can't squeeze through the hedge and we don't often get cats. There are mink in the river and these do sometimes come into the garden, and they are vicious creatures. So every night when the adult doves were getting ready to settle into the dovecote for the night, we would pick the babies up and pop them in too, to be safe. This is easier said than done - the babies don't want to be picked up by people and can move pretty fast! One night we had to be away for the night and Em had been given strict intructions that the babies MUST be put in the cote. She told us that she had spent ages, in the rain, going round and round the pampas grass trying to catch Lily. We have a small net that we use but it is still not easy, and of course you don't want to damage the bird.

Soon enough, the babies had learnt to fly and we had a lovely little flock of six. I really enjoyed this time in the late summer. I fed the doves twice a day, morning and afternoon. In the afternoons I would sit on the grass and throw their feed, and they would all come pecking round me. The summer of 2006 was a lot better than this summer and I always seemed to be sitting on the grass, in the sun, with my beautiful dove angels around me.

Pax was definitely the leader of the flock. He was the one who decided when they would fly down to feed. and often if I didnt come out quick enough with the food in the afternoons he would come up to the kitchen door and wait for me. I loved him, and I loved them all. Columba was another beautiful dove who was extra-special to me.

When friends or family came, especially with children, it was a delight to see them enjoy the doves and feed them too.

Every time I came in or out of the garden I would consciously or unconsciously count the doves, just to make sure all six were there. One day I did a double take, there were seven doves on the roof! Another day there were eight, and once even nine! I was so happy to have visiting doves.

I write to my elderly mother weekly and there was always something new to write about with the doves.

But the summer idyll came to an end in the middle of October......

To be continued....

Sunday, 19 August 2007

My new blog for my doves

I want to have a blog just for my doves so will start at the beginning of their story, which started when Hub3 and I got married at the end of April 2006.

My mother gave us some money for a wedding present, which she said was from herself and my father, although he had died 10 months before. I don't know how the idea got into my head but I decided that I would love to have a dovecote, especially as we have the perfect garden for it. Although many people call pigeons 'flying rats' I have always been fond of them, and as a little girl it was a treat to buy a paperbagful of food from the pet shop on the corner on Richmond Green and feed the pigeons, and an even bigger treat to do so at Trafalgar Square.

The kind of 'doves' I keep are really just white pigeons and are referred to as white garden doves. They are not fantails or anything special. But of course they are very beautiful and special to me!

Hub3 was agreeable to the idea but said we must ask our landlord as we rent our cottage from a country estate. The land owner who is rather posh said that he thought a dovecote would be 'a charming idea'. I was so excited - I started researching doves and dovecotes on the net, and discovered Kootensaw Dovecotes who have a very pretty website

As the doves need to be confined for a homing period of six weeks, we couldn't get them any earlier than June as I wanted to be there for them, and we had our honeymoon and other commitments before then.

So I chose a beautiful white (expensive) dovecote and we had it delivered. Hub3 and some mates erected it for me, and it awaited its occupants.

I spent some pleasant dreamy moments choosing my doves names. We had decided to start with two pairs (now I wish we had started with three pairs). I immediately decided to call one pair after my parents - John and Irene. John is a funny name for a dove, but Irene means 'peace' so very appropriate really! The second male I decided to call Pax which of course also means peace, and his mate's name was to be Persephone. I chose this partly because it is pretty and springlike (although Queen of the Underworld) and I also thought it sounded well with Irene; John and Irene, Pax and Persephone.

The four doves arrived by special carrier on the 15th June 2006. We got them out of the carrying boxes and ringed them, not knowing at the time which sex they were or which doves were pairs. The rings were yellow, green, purple and orange.

The dovecote was netted for the homing period and staked to the ground. So the doves had the dovecote and a semi-circle of grass only to be their home for the next six weeks. I hated confining them but it was part of the process; otherwise they would've just flown back to wherever they came from.

It was absorbing watching them. I hadnt realised how they would all have their separate personalities. I knew nothing about keeping doves either, but had been assured by Kootensaw that it was perfectly simple.

It was soon obvious that orange and purple rings were male. So orange became Pax and purple, John. Green was paired with orange and became Persephone. Irene was yellow and paired with John. It was also obvious that Pax and Persephone were a strong, loving couple and Pax was the alpha male. I hated to see him running after John and pecking him to show who was boss. I had never realised the significance of the phrase 'the pecking order' til then! John and Irene, unlike my parents, did not seem that interested in each other. Irene seemed young and rather aloof.

Pax and Persephone immediately got down to business and set up home in the nestbox they considered 'best' - probably the one that gets the most light or something. We very soon realised that they had laid eggs and were very excited. The babies were hatched on 17th July and all the doves were still under the homing net.

The new babies were named Columba and Lily. I chose the name Columba and my daughter, Em, named Lily. We didnt know if they were male or female. It is apparently very difficult to sex doves even if you are an expert. It's easier to wait and see what characteristics they show when they are older.

Baby doves stay in the nestbox being looked after and fed by their parents until they are approx four weeks old, so the babies, Lily and Columba, were about two weeks old and very visible and noisy when the day arrived to take off the homing net.

We followed instructions as to how and when to remove the net, and got up early one Sunday morning. Hub3 removed the stakes, dragged off the net, and the doves peeked out.

Within minutes they had all realised their freedom and flown completely away. I burst into tears!

To be continued.....