Please read Parts 1 and 2 in the blogs below this one
It was Thursday evening 2nd April and Hope, my mother dove had just flown off at 7.30 pm, leaving the two week old squabs alone in the nest. It was chilly and getting darker and she didn't come back. I didn't expect her to as night fell properly as birds don't normally fly in the dark and doves/pigeons are nervous creatures. It was too late to ring either of my dove mentors - Bob and Dave - although I did email frantically, then I thought of phoning Gill Hunt (who lives in Scotland and has beautiful holiday cottages by the way - do have a look! http://www.westerlix.net/ ) as I know she has worked at the animal hospital in Leatherhead and helped to rear squabs. Gill was extremely kind, reassuring and helpful. She told me that the doves don't have the same sense of smell as mammals and therefore if I removed the squabs for the night, and Hope did come back in the morning then she was unlikely to reject them due to my handling. I knew that Bob handles his squabs because I had seen him pick one up, so I certainly felt that Gill was correct despite my husband warning me that if I did remove them from the nest Hope would never go back to them.
I had previously read up a bit on the internet about the kind of temporary accommodation that the squabs would need, so I made a 'nursery' by putting a small box lined with a rough piece of old towel, and some strands of hay, in a bigger higher sided plastic box. I stuffed the space between the two boxes with hay, and heated my dog's hard round microwaveable hot pad.
By 8.30pm it was completely dark and I knew Hope wasn't coming back. I went out into the garden with my daughter carrying the box and set the stepladder up against the dovecote. 'Aren't you going to wear gloves?' asked my daughter. 'No' I said 'I need to be able to feel properly'. I hadn't got any worry about handling the squabs, but had never held any that small before. I reached in and picked up the first baby. It was surprisingly extremely warm, and I felt sort of grainy through its delicate skin. I vaguely realised that that was it's crop full of food which was a good thing. I quickly popped it into the waiting box, and my daughter placed a few sheets of newspaper on the top. Then I collected the other one, and we went straight inside.
I settled the babies next to each other in the box, for warmth and comfort, and put the hot pad in beween the hay in the section between the two boxes. I put the box next to the Aga, and then worried that the babes would be too hot!
My plan was to get up before sunrise and put the squabs back in the nest so that if Hope did come back they would be already there and she wouldn't fret. Plan B was to take them to the Wildlife Aid, Leatherhead to be reared by hand. I would've loved to do it myself, but don't know how to make the mix of food correctly and adminster it.
After a restless night, and checking on the squabs once at 2.oo am, I got up at 6.00 am on Friday 3rd April and my little babies still seemed well. It was damp, dark and cold still and I was reluctant to put them straight back into the nest. Now my worry was that the shock of the different temperature - Aga-warm kitchen to cold dovecote would be bad for them. I made a mug of tea and kept popping out to see if any doves were around. I'm crazy I know but I also warmed a smooth stone from the rockery in the aga and put it in the nestbox to warm it up a bit! Sunrise had been predicted for 6.20 am that day, and 3 white doves were on my roof by 6.30 am. I didn't dare wait any longer as one of them might be Hope, so I repositioned the stepladder and took the babies, in the box, outside. I put the box on the garden table and took one quick photo.
The babies look quite big but they are actually about the size of my cupped hand. They were in the nestbox, cuddling up to the blood temperature stone, by 6.40 am. I kept watch and about 6.50 am a single dove came down to the lawn to feed. I normally feed the doves on the island but have been keeping some food on the lawn all the time so Hope has plenty of food for herself and the babies. The single dove was Hope and I was so relieved, but watched to see if she would just feed herself or go back to the babies. By 7.00 am she was in the nest and feeding them, and the crisis was over for this time!
Remember the intruder? I didn't know what to do with it and beyond confining it and giving it food and water, I had ignored it. I wondered if we released it somewhere else whether it would stay away, so I made a plan with my husband who works nights in London to take it with him, and release it there in the morning. I marked it with food colouring - the same as I had marked Hope (and Glory) so I would know it if it did come back. The wretched thing struggled so much while I was trying to dab the colour on that the bottles spilt and it ended up with a glorious green and pink tail, like some exotic bird. My husband released it about 8.00 am on the Friday in London, and said it was desperate to get out and immediately flew up into the sky, circled round a few times, spotted a group of pigeons and made its way towards them.
The rest of Friday was normal in my dove world. Hope attended her babies all day and stayed the night with them. 'Maybe she just had a one night stand?' my daughter suggested, laughing. I felt that the new male was pulling her away from the babies and hoped his influence wouldn't be stronger than her urge to feed and look after the squabs.
Saturday, 4th April and after a normal day Hope gave the babies a last feed at 7pm and flew away. I waited til 8.30 pm and then removed the squabs to their box in the kitchen as before, not worrying so much this time as the method had worked before, and put them back in the nest box in the morning. Again Hope came back and fed them.
Sunday something very traumatic happened....... although Hope knew nothing about it!
To be continued.....
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