Hand-rearing Pigeons & Doves (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Columba livia - Rock pigeon, Columba oenas - Stock pigeon, Columba palumbus - Common wood-pigeon, Streptopelia turtur - European turtle-dove, Streptopelia decaocto - Eurasian collared-dove.

These species are from the families Columbidae.

  • Parents of these species initially feed their chicks (squabs) with "crop milk", produced by cells lining the crop. After about four days some partially-digested regurgitated feed is fed with the crop milk, and by about seven days regurgitated feed is the main ingredient fed to the squabs (timing for domestic Columba livia - Rock pigeon). (B11.24.w23)

Initial Care: 

General bird information:

  • On arrival any young bird should be weighed, warmed, and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration.
  • Cold, weak chicks may benefit greatly from a short period, for example 30 minutes, left in a dark cardboard box at 30-35C.(P19.1.w4)
  • The age should be determined if possible.
  • See: Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General altricial/semialtricial bird information

  • Young birds, particularly altricial or semialtricial unfeathered/poorly down-covered nestlings, have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.(V.w5)
  • A thermometer should be used, within the brooder box or beside the nest box, to indicate the temperature at which the chicks are being maintained.
  • Provide heat to a maximum of 95F directly under a heat lamp, with a temperature range such that the chicks can choose the position at which the temperature is comfortable. Ensure the minimum temperature is not low enough to allow the chicks to get chilled.
  • An artificial nest may be made from a round container, similar in diameter to the natural nest for the species.
    • Plastic tubs are commonly used.
    • Line with paper towels.
    • A cardboard box may also be used.
    • (D24, D29, B203)
    • May be lined with cut up towels (without frayed edges) which gives a good grip for the nestlings.(V.w27)
  • The nest should be placed within a larger box:
    • The floor of the box may be covered with a towel (V.w27), absorbent paper towel or sand. 
    • Keep covered with e.g. a wire mesh cover or net curtain material (allowing light in).
    • (D29, B203, V.w27)
  • Keep warm , but avoid overheating.
    • Heat lamp or brooder may be used to provide heat.
    • Alternative means of heating include placing the artificial nest on top of a towel-wrapped hot water bottle, placing the artificial nest in a small warm space such as an airing cupboard, placing the container near a radiator or raising the ambient temperature of the room.
    • More heat is required for featherless nestlings than for older, birds which have some feathers.
    • Keep at about 27-32C (B118.5.w5); 28C (B203), 30C/86F (D26) until feathered.
    • Note both thermometer temperature and behaviour of the chicks in adjusting the temperature (chicks which are too cold will feel cold to the touch; chicks which are too hot will have their necks stretched out, panting, keeping away from one another).
  • (B118.5.w5, B151, B203, D24, D26, D29, V.w27)

Pigeon and dove specific information:

  • Older squabs may be kept in a plastic crate lined with newspaper covered with a towel to provide grip.
  • The sides of the crate should be sufficiently high to prevent escape.
  • (V.w26)


Suggested foods for hand-rearing pigeons and doves include:

  • Canary rearing food, mixed as indicated on the packet.(D29)
  • Mixture of chick crumbs/rearing mix/millet/water for hand feeding with boluses of food. (D24)
  • Bread soaked in creamy milk may be used initially for hand feeding with boluses of food.(B186.8.w8)
  • Proprietary rearing food for tube feeding, e.g. KAYtee Rearing food (D24), Tropican Rearing Mix (Rolf C Hagen).(B151)
  • An appropriate vitamin/mineral supplement must be used in the rearing mix. Appropriate quantities of calcium and phosphorus are particularly important to avoid metabolic bone disease which is a particularly common finding in fledgling collared doves (Streptopelia decaocto - Eurasian collared-dove).(D24)

Feeding Frequency:

Suggested feeding frequencies include:

  • Feed every 30 minutes.(B151)
  • Offer food every hour initially.(B194)

Feeding Technique: 

Suggested feeding techniques include:

  • 1) Place the food in a strong plastic bag or tube, cut a hole in the side of the bag and push the squab's bill gently into the food, allowing it to suck the food.(D29)
    • Similarly the squab may suck food from e.g. a feeding nipple with an enlarged hole (B194), or a small container such as a egg cup.(B186.8.w8)
  • 2) Hand feeding with boluses of food.
    • This requires opening the bill to place the food well inside the bill avoiding the opening to the trachea, as the squab will not gape. (B186.8.w8, D24)
  • 3) Crop feed (gavage), i.e. place food into the crop using a suitable tube.(D24, B151)


  • Check crop contents to avoid overfeeding: crop should be empty before each feed and full but not taut at the end of each feed.(B186.8.w8, D24)


  • Not required.


General bird information:

  • Regular weighing provides a good indication of growth, however a balance must be chosen between the frequency of weighing for accurate monitoring of progress and the stress which may be caused by repeated handling.
  • Individuals in a brood or being reared in a group must be individually identifiable in order to allow the progress of each chick to be monitored.
    • Temporary identification may be made possible using small colour marks applied to the feathers. An appropriate non-toxic material such as coloured correction fluid (e.g. Tippex) or nail varnish may be used for this purpose.
    • Alternatively, for larger chicks, lightweight leg rings made of flat plastic may be used. These are available in a wide variety of colours. Rings must be of an appropriate size and changed as the bird grows.
  • (B150.w2, V.w5, V.w26)
  • Weighing each squab before and after feeding may be used to determine actual food intake in young squabs. (V.w26)


  • Once well feathered, add small seed to the canary rearing food.(D29)
  • Grains such as wheat and maize, fresh green vegetables and grit should be available to older squabs.(D29)
  • Small seeds and chick crumbs (smaller species of dove) or pigeon seed mix and pellets (pigeons and larger doves).(B151)
  • Squab should start picking up food items by about one month old.(B186.8.w8)


  • General bird information:
    • Move to an aviary for at least two weeks prior to release, to allow exercise, flying/swimming as appropriate, and exposure to the weather.
  • See: Release of Casualty Pigeons and Doves
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned or abandoned, injured/visibly unwell, or in immediate danger.
  • Considerable input of time and effort required.
  • The use of prophylactic medication (carnidazole) against Trichomoniasis should be considered.
  • The use of vaccination against Pigeon Paramyxovirus-1 (PMV) should be considered.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  •  There is always a risk of damaging the bill if opening it manually.(V.w6)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Suitable rearing food: (proprietary rearing foods are available from pet stores and specialist mail order feed suppliers)
    • Canary rearing food.
    • KAYtee Rearing food.
    • Tropican Rearing Mix (Rolf C. Hagen (UK) Ltd, Castleford, West Yorkshire, WF10 5QH)
  • Plastic bag, lamb rearing nipple or similar container for offering food to suck.
  • Gavage tube if tube-feeding is used.
  • Suitable mixed grain for weaning.
  • Carnidazole for prophylactic medication against trichomoniasis (Spartrix, Harkers).
  • PMV vaccine (Columbovac PMV, Solvay Animal Health).
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • The initial time commitment for birds requiring frequent (e.g. hourly) feeding is extreme and would be prohibitive for most people.
  • Manual dexterity is important for caring for these very small individuals. OR (Manual dexterity important.)
  • Requires empathy, observation skills and the ability to "read" the body language of the animal.
  • Experience with hand-rearing is useful and likely to greatly increase the success rate.
Cost/ Availability
  • Not expensive to feed.
  • Food stuffs required should be available from good pet stores.
  • Gavage tubes should be available from specialist suppliers.
  • Other equipment is widely available.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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