Feeding Pigeons and Doves
Our knowledge of bird nutrition is constantly evolving, both from heightened awareness of the importance of nutrition and from increased research into birds’ different needs. As with all other animals, birds need a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Different species of birds often require different foods.
Should I be concerned about what my pigeon or dove eats?
Proper nutrition is commonly neglected and critically important with pet birds. You should discuss nutritional needs with your veterinarian. Too often, owners assume they are feeding a proper diet to their pigeon or dove when, in fact, they are not. Poor nutrition is a common reason for many health problems in birds. Birds’ health depends on how well they are fed, so it is essential that bird owners are educated about what to feed their birds. Bird owners should stay in contact with their avian veterinarians to stay current on their birds’ nutritional needs.
What do wild pigeons and doves eat?
Wild pigeons and doves eat a variety of grains, seeds, greens, berries, fruits, and will occasionally eat insects, snails and earthworms.
What should I feed my pigeon or dove?
Pigeons have traditionally been fed all-seed diets. Commercially available seed mixes for pigeons may contain 2-5 different kinds of seeds. However, the seeds tend to be high-fat and nutrient-deficient and are not the same kinds of seeds that wild pigeons eat. Seeds are also deficient in calcium, vitamin A, and other nutrients. Many times, these seed mixes are fed as the only source of food, leading to ill health and potentially, a shortened lifespan. Seeds can be part of a pigeon’s diet but should not comprise the entire diet.
There are pigeon diets available that contain some seed plus grains. Some are also enriched with brewer's yeast plus vitamins and minerals. Different diet formulations exist for performance birds, resting birds, and breeding birds. The problem with offering pigeons and doves diets containing seeds is that they selectively eat only the seeds and do not get any of the nutritional benefits from the pellets.
"Seeds can be part of a pigeon’s diet but should not comprise the entire diet."
Several types of commercially formulated pelleted diets in various colors, shapes, and sizes have been developed to meet all birds’ nutritional needs. Compared with parrots (hook-billed birds), pigeons and doves have very small beaks and do best with small-sized pellets. Hand raised babies are the easiest to start on a pelleted diet. Pellets should ideally represent approximately 50% of a pigeon's diet along with small amounts of seed and fresh produce.
Fruits and Vegetables
Finely chopped vegetables and greens, plus smaller amounts of fruit, should be offered as part of a pigeon’s or dove’s daily diet. Pale vegetables, with a high water composition (i.e., iceberg or head lettuce, celery) offer very little nutritional value and should not be offered. Avocado is reported to be potentially toxic to birds and should not be offered.
Fruits and vegetables must be washed thoroughly to remove chemicals. Unlike hook-billed parrots, pigeons and doves have small beaks, so vegetables and fruits should be shred or cut up into tiny, manageable pieces. Fruits and vegetables should be offered in a separate dish from pellets and other foods. If your bird appears to develop a particular fancy for one food item, reduce its volume, or stop feeding it temporarily to promote the consumption of other foods.
Fresh clean water must be available at all times. Depending on the quality of your tap water, you might consider the use of bottled water. Dishes must be cleaned thoroughly every day with soap and water.
What about people food?
As a rule, any wholesome, nutritious food that you and your family eat, your bird can also eat, but in very small quantities. Follow the general guidelines discussed above. Some birds enjoy a very tiny amount of lean cooked meat, fish, egg or cheese occasionally. Dairy products should be consumed in moderation, as birds are lactose-intolerant. Junk food, chocolate, salty foods (chips, pretzels, popcorn), as well as products containing caffeine and alcoholic beverages may be toxic to birds and should not be offered.
Will my bird have any different needs throughout its life?
Birds that are extremely young, stressed, injured, laying eggs or raising young may have certain special requirements. There are specially formulated pelleted foods available for birds with specific nutritional requirements. Consult your veterinarian regarding these situations.
Does my pigeon or dove need extra vitamins, minerals or amino acids?
Your veterinarian can help you assess your bird's diet and its particular needs. In general, birds that are eating pellets as the basis of their diets do not need supplements. Specific vitamins or minerals may be more important at various times during a bird's life (e.g., egg laying requires calcium supplementation). Calcium supplements are available if your bird is determined to be deficient.
"In general, birds that are eating pellets as the basis of their diets do not need supplements."
Does my pigeon or dove need gravel or grit?
Controversy exists over the need for gravel or grit. It was once believed that grit was necessary for the mechanical breakdown of food in the gizzard to aid in digestion. Unlike parrots that remove the outside seed hull before they eat the seed kernel, pigeons and doves ingest seeds whole and seem to do fine without grit. To aid in the breakdown of food, pigeons and doves may be offered a small amount of crushed eggshell or digestible oyster shell grit which can also serve as a source of calcium. Many birds will, in fact, have gastrointestinal problems if they overeat grit, so only digestible oyster shell should be offered.
What pointers should I remember about feeding my pigeon or dove?
- Always monitor the amount of food eaten every day by each bird.
- Offer fresh water every day.
- Offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day.
- Clean all food and water dishes daily.
- If a bird rejects a food one day, it may accept it another day. Keep trying!
Some suggested food items include:
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