The Australian Crested Dove — Beautiful To Behold
By Tony Brancato
Undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful of the Australian imports is the Australian Crested Dove (Ocyphaps lophotes). In Australia, it is referred to as the crested pigeon, while the indigenous people Down Under called this bird the topknot pigeon. Regardless of its name, this is one good looking bird!
The Look: The male Australian Crests have a gray head, with an erect dark crest similar to that of a cockatiel. The face is a soft gray with pinkish sides that extend to the sides of the breast. Its back, rump and upper tail covert are brownish-gray. The wings are gray, with broad tan and narrow black barring. The wing primaries are nearly black with the innermost feathers tipped in white. The wing shield is prominent with a mirror-like metallic green and brilliant purple. In sunlight, this dove is breathtaking to behold with its ever-changing metallic colors of green, purple, gold-bronze and coppery-red. The throat, breast and abdomen are a pale gray, while the tail is dark brown with a metallic-green cast, tipped in grayish-white. The eyes are orangish-red. The bill is nearly black, and the legs and feet are typical of most doves and pigeons — red.
Juveniles are similar to the adults in most respects. The crest in young birds is less prominent, wing shield is duller and the overall sheen of the adults is lacking. The bill is much lighter than that of the adults, and the legs and feet are a pinkish-gray instead of red.
The female is very similar to the male, making it difficult to visually sex these birds. The male usually has more metallic secondaries than the hen; males have five or more, while females have four to five. DNA sexing is the only reliable way to determine the sex on this species.
Family Tree: Size-wise, the Australian Crested Dove is approximately the same as a domestic ring-necked dove (Streptopelia risoria). This species has some rather unique habits. Some ornithologists believe that the Australian Crested Dove is related to other bronzewing pigeons native to Australia. These include the Common Bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera) and the Brush Bronzewing (Phaps elegans). However, to judge this species by plumage, behavior and adaptive characteristics such as gait, flight and courtship, would squarely place it, in my opinion, in the genus Geopelia. This genus includes Diamond Doves, Zebra Doves and Bar-shouldered Doves. Nevertheless, because its habits are very different than those of the Geopelia, it retains its own separate genus, Ocyphaps.
**Two subspecies (O. l. whitlocki and O. l. lophotes) have been identified in Australia. Neither of these subspecies, to my knowledge, are in zoos or collections in the United States.
Breeding: The Australian Crested Dove makes a whistling sound when it flies, although the air, rather than the dove, produces the sound through the wing feathers. This dove also bobs its tail in an upward motion when it alights on a perch or the ground. Its voice is soft and musical and can be best described as a "coo-oo" sound. Usually, bowing and courtship follow as the male lowers his head and spreads his wings and tail. The courtship is similar in some ways to that of the Bar-shouldered Dove (Geopelia humeralis) and the Zebra Dove (G. striata).
Australian Crested Doves breed throughout the year. All doves and pigeons build fragile nests. I provide small baskets or wire cone nests that I make for our doves. (See below for instructions about making wire cone nests.) Two pure white eggs are laid, and the incubation period is 18 to 20 days. In our aviaries, the Australian Crested Dove selects nests that are six feet or more off the ground. They are tight sitters and will not abandon their nest unless approached within four feet. This species is flighty and wild, requiring patience and care before they will trust their keeper.
Housing: Because these birds are similar in size to a domestic ring-necked dove, they require at least an aviary that is 6 by 10 by 6 feet high. The aviary should face south or southeast for maximum sun exposure. A dry, draft-free environment is essential for good health for all doves.
Feeding: I feed my Australian crested doves the same food I feed all my doves. They are primarily seedeaters. The crested doves are in mixed species aviaries. The seed that is fed to my birds is enriched finch mix, wild birdseed, safflower seed, cuttlebone, health grit and fresh water. As a special treat, our doves relish soft foods such as steamed rice and vegetables, fresh grated carrots or diced fruit. Soft foods are provided every other day. I also sprinkle vitamin powder on the soft foods.
Characteristics: This species is popular with bird fanciers who prefer the medium-sized doves. They are very quiet and non-aggressive with other species, but the Australian Crested Dove has a reputation that is undeserved, in my opinion. I have been told that they are aggressive with other doves and with their own species as well. This is totally erroneous. I have bred Australian Crested Doves in a mixed species aviary without ever encountering a problem. Individual doves in all species can be aggressive. The Australian Crested is no more or less aggressive. They can be safely kept with even the smallest of dove species.
This species is worthy of consideration by the serious aviculturist. They are regal and magnificent in appearance and available throughout the country.
Making A Wire Cone Nest
1. Cut a pie-sized circle of hardware cloth.
2. Cut out a triangle piece, and make a cone, folding the edges so no sharp wire is exposed.
3. Cut a piece of burlap or heavy cloth material and anchor to the bottom of the cone.
4. Fill cone nest with long pine needles or straw.
5. Secure cone nest to a wall or branch.
A footnote of interest: British authorities tried to introduce the Australian Crested Dove to the British countryside, not too many years ago, without much success.** NOTE 12/2002: per IDS correction – there is only two races recognized; with O. l. lophote the nominate race & the single subspecies is O. l. whitlocki. No distinction has ever been made as to which race was caught & exported from Australia to other countries during the time exportations were allowed from Australia. Also, nowadays no comparisons can be made on the birds outside of Australia on which race may actually be in a collection.