Breeding the Cape or Masked Dove
by Mrs. Phil Doran Ė New Zealand

My views, on breeding this dove has changed over the last year or so and might be of interest to others. I used to think the "best" way to breed the Cape was in individual aviaries; each aviary housing a single pair. This system of course gives each pair privacy and the fancier can be sure of the offspring produced by each pair.

Being short of space, as the population expanded, I had to put most raised birds into my biggest aviary. This aviary was 9 feet by 4 feet & tall enough to walk in. At the end of this season I ended up with a "breeding colony" of 15 breeding pair within this aviary. Also included with the 15 pair in the flight were all the fledglings & young hens.

Another aviary of 6 feet by 3 feet contains young & unmated cock birds. Another similar aviary contains the hens approaching mating/breeding age. Other breeding pairs are scattered around in small individual cages & pairs in the flights with the Diamond Doves.

In the big aviary, the nests are placed all over the sides, making a three tier set-up. They are placed less than a foot apart. There is the usual squabbling, but each pair picks a nest & there is little interference once the pairs are sitting; except for the cock bird which may fancy anotherís mate. Some birds even nest as a "threesome" comprised of two hens & a single cock. Sometimes three pair will pile into one single nest & brood six eggs. At time sit may seems to be a state of utter chaos, but I am getting some beautiful chicks.

In my opinion it is all in the feeding! As soon as a bird leaves itís nest of young, someone else hops right in & gives the chicks a feed. This facet is done more when the chicks are pin feathered & jump about begging for food. Once the chicks fledge and get to the floor of the aviary, every bird on the ground is interested & most adults will feed the chick when it begins begging from them whether it is their own or not. My observations have found that the cock birds are the keenest to feed the strange chicks. I can move chicks about without problems, giving small or neglected chicks to other birds.

Where a pair have only a single chick they will happily accept a second one. I have even put a small chick in a nest that already had two chicks & the parents raised all three. This sometimes happens naturally, with chicks falling into a lower nest or fledglings getting into a strange nest for a feed. All are usually welcomed.

I also keep four pair of Diamond Doves & a pair of Talpacoti Doves (Ruddy Ground) in this large aviary. They too feed the young Capes. I have had HYBEE (a Diamond X Peaceful cock hybrid Ė proven to be infertile) over 12 years; he feeds & raises any chick he can get. Hybee has hatched & raised many abandoned eggs or chicks.

The result of all this is that though I may not get as many chicks as in individual cages, because of the squabbling, most of those that hatch & survive their first day will be reared. The usual "Cape problem" of losing feathered chicks about to leave the nest by the parents deserting or neglecting them doesnít happen. If I see a chick being neglected by the parents I just shove the chick in with someone else. Once fledged, they can demand & get all the feeding they need. Often times, they continue to beg for three months; turning out to be big beautiful birds.

Sometimes I put a chick in with the bachelor cocks for an extra feed; it is amazing to see all the bachelors eager to feed the youngster. I do have to watch & take the youngster out though when the bachelors start trying to mate with it.

One way to deal with a pair of Capes that persistently desert their chicks just before they fledge is to put them in a very crowded aviary. One pair I received & kept in an individual cage fooled around for two years, only raising a single chick. I moved them to the large aviary & made them compete with all the others. They have successfully raised four young hen chicks & are on fertile eggs again.

As Capes have more cocks than hens, I am trying to breed as much as possible from good hen-producing lines. The hen bird, of course fixes sex (?), so I am keeping the hens from hen producers and letting the other birds rear their eggs if I can. The Diamonds come in handy for incubating Cape eggs, which are then passed on to Capes as the Diamonds reach the end of their brooding time & desert. The bachelor cock birds also nest together & are given spare eggs to sit on, but so far have not hatched any.

Recently I have been letting the spare cocks out in the mornings to fly around, explore & forage in the garden. A free Cape flies very fast, like a swallow Ė quite unlike its "butterfly" flight in the aviary. They free-range just as well as the ringnecks, but being much smaller they need more frequent feedings. They usually stay out for about two hours before coming back to be let in. I keep them in if the weather is bad, as they could become unable to fly or forage in heavy continuous rain.

Hens being scarce are not allowed out. I donít want them trying to nest in the wild, as they could not succeed in raising chicks among the cats & rats of a suburb.

Cape Doves are said to have been freed on Kawau Island last century & to have survived for a while, but died out. Governor Grey freed many birds & animals there. There are still Peacocks & Wallabies about.

My theory is that the Capes could have survived wild there by foraging & eating the Peacocks food, but could not have bred fast enough to keep themselves going. I am trying to find out more about this. My free ranging ringnecks, now at least five generations "wild", still need to be fed especially in the winter. Unlike the Chinese Spotted (Laceneck) Doves around here which have become genuinely feral.

Iíve noticed in the big flock that many of the hens are always at the same stage of nesting Ė handy for fostering chicks. Is this coincidence or can a Cape flock genuinely synchronize their breeding cycles? Of course, in the wild they would probably all nest at once as soon as conditions were right (say after the rains); but are they really doing this in an aviary with a constant supply of food?

This article appeared in the IDS bulletin in 1990. Mrs. Doran has raised well over 400 Cape Doves in her Avicultural career. It can be said that the stock of Cape Doves found in New Zealand today (2003) can be traced back to Mrs. Doranís stock. Mrs. Doran has recently had to cut back on the number of birds she keeps. Mrs. Doran & her husband are in their mid 90ís.