I used to regularly hear the singing of the Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis) in and around my garden. Once in a while I would spot a dove foraging on the ground but it would invariably fly off whenever I appeared. After reading Lee Chiu San’s series on whether wild birds can be tamed, I decided to find out whether I can get the dove to be reasonably tamed as to feed off my hand.
Armed with a packet of birdseeds bought from a pet shop, I started scattering handfuls in the garden daily. Sure enough, a Spotted Dove arrived to feed. I knew it came by the sound of its characteristic loud flapping of wings as it flew off as I appeared from the house.
It took about two weeks of scattering birdseeds twice a day before the dove felt comfortable enough not to fly off whenever I appeared. Soon I could walk slowly by and approach up to less than a meter without frightening it.
Initially I would see the dove in the morning and in the evening. Was it one and the same bird? Once or twice when the dove was feeding, another would appear. This caused the feeding bird to immediately fly after it. Was it chasing it away or joining its mate?
Whenever I walked into the garden, the dove would appear, as if asking to be fed. When I moved to the back of the garden, it followed me. If I was sitting nearby reading, it would walk up to my feet (above left). Once, it even cooed from a high perch when I appeared. And as soon as I scattered the birdseeds, it flew down to feed.
The birdseeds also attracted the Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus) (above right). First there was only a single sparrow, always giving way to the larger dove. Then came another and then a third. Now there are up to six birds. The sparrows are extremely shy, flying off whenever I am around, even after weeks of feeding, unlike the dove. Should I suddenly appear from far to photograph the sparrows, they would scatter. Not so the dove. I experimented with flash photography from less than a metre away from where I was sitting. The first burst of light startled it somewhat but it continued to pick up the seeds. Subsequent flashed failed to distract the dove.
There is also a pair of Javan Mynas (Acridotheres javanicus) but they are not interested in the seeds. The sparrows tend to avoid the mynas but now they will feed close by the dove.