Laughing Dove: 1. Behaviour during incubation

posted in: Nesting, Pigeon-Dove | 3

“I am lucky enough to have a panoramic view of my suburban front garden just outside Perth city-centre in Western Australia, through the large window fronting my desk and computer table – the garden is planted with Australian native plants and my sheltered front verandah porch has more exotic palms and ferns etc displayed in large pots, just in front of my front study window. Up in a corner of the porch rafters, close to the metal-bond roofing is a small platform ledge that has been recently adopted by a pair of Laughing Doves (Stigmatopelia senegalensis) for their nest.

“The female dove is currently sitting on her loose-twig nest all day long; I have very clear sight of her all the time I am at my desk, usually at least 5 hours a day. Or at least I think it is the female – on one occasion only during the past 10 days since they began sitting, I observed one bird replace the other to sit, which suggests either that the male swaps this duty with the female, or that there are two cooperative females involved. I’ll try to clarify this later if possible! Maybe someone out there knows more about this kind of behaviour in this species?

“Right below the nest, about a metre below, is a bird bath full of water. But I have never seen the female/sitter leave her nest above to go down and take water. Perhaps she does this when I am not there! Perhaps the male or cooperative female is bringing her water somehow. Or perhaps she gets a regular ‘off-shift’ to go and get water elsewhere?

“Whatever, it was clear yesterday and a few other days recently that the sitter was suffering from heat stress, yet she did not move once from her post on the nest to get water from just a metre below her. The temperature went over 33º Centigrade yesterday and I observed her half standing up with her bill open and her lower throat flapping rhythmically. Recalling that this is pretty much how cats and dogs look when they are heat-stressed, I immediately googled ‘doves panting’. I discovered that the dove’s behaviour did indeed indicate heat stress and was technically termed ‘Gular Flapping’.

“As the movement went on for some time, I got concerned and took action: I activated our evaporative air-cooling system inside the house. Unlike conventional aircon, this type of cooling system requires you to open not close windows, for full circulation of the air that is passed over cooling water and wood chips. Then I opened my study window exactly so that the cooling ventilation would exit the window and circulate around the dove’s nest. It worked – within 20 minutes, there was no more ‘gular flapping’! So this is one lucky dove, with ‘all mod cons’ provided by its human guardian!

“With just two other individual Laughing Doves in my garden, I also have a special relationship. Yes, yes, I know you shouldn’t feed wild birds! But my husband started doing it first, ok, feeding them ‘Wild Bird Seed’ grain obtainable from the supermarkets in Perth. Then I noticed that this pair was getting closer and closer to us, and I couldn’t help thinking, would they feed from my hand? It took many patient weeks of ‘speaking’ to them, baiting them, coaxing them etc, step by step. But eventually, I had just this one pair eating out of my hands, and running to me like dogs whenever I appeared! I have a strong sense that they are specific individuals, because there are other Laughing Doves in the garden who will not eat from my hand yet, have not been ‘trained’ by me. And at some point, one of the tamed pair dropped out of the scene for some reason. So now I only have one, apparently a female, that comes to me – for example, an aggressive male that is mating with her will not come anywhere near me, so I am really sure that I have a specific ‘dove friend’ in this female who still eats from my hands, and follows me around very closely when I am watering the garden. I can make her appear simply by shouting ‘Come!’ in a certain tone of voice.

“These doves are an introduced species in Western Australia, from Africa: for convenience, I quote the Wikipedia text for Laughing Dove below, although other field guides pretty much confirm the same thing – interesting to note the Wikipedia statement that this dove is a “small pigeon” – as you probably know, this is a very confused area, since there is no real scientific difference between pigeons and doves, and the common feral pigeon is descended from the Rock Dove. Usually the word ‘pigeon’ is just used for larger birds, and the word ‘dove’ for smaller more delicate species, I believe (Refer to my co-authored book, with Prof Navjot S. Sodhi of NUS, “Winged Invaders, Pest Birds of the Asia Pacific” , SNP International Publishing, SNP Corporation, Singapore 2006, ISBN: 981-248-065-X).

“The Laughing Dove is a small pigeon which is a resident breeding bird in the tropics in Africa south of the Sahara, the Middle East and southern Asia east to India. In India it is also known as the Little Brown Dove. Probably as the result of stowaways from Africa or India, the bird is also found in a localised area of Western Australia — in and around Perth and Fremantle. It is a common and widespread species in scrub, dry farmland and habitation over a good deal of its range, often becoming very tame. This species builds a stick nest in a tree and lays two white eggs. Its flight is quick, with the regular beats and an occasional sharp flick of the wings which are characteristic of pigeons in general.”

“Another more likely version says that the dove was introduced to the Perth area through a release by the Perth Zoological Gardens in 1898.”

Ilsa Sharp
Freelance writer, researcher, editor, consultant
Perth, Western Australia
27th October 2010

Image of Laughing Dove by Dr Eric Tan, photographed in Perth.

3 Responses

  1. Ragoo Rao

    The brooding Doves observation is excellent. In Doves & Pigeons, both the parents share all domestic chores including incubation. Initially the female sits for a few days continuously and then they take turns incubating the eggs. I have noticed in pigeons (Domesticated species) the male feeding the female like he would feed a chick. It has not been possible for me to observe this behavior in the Wild-Doves & Pigeons. Wild birds refrain from doing any activity at the nest when they have an intruder around, Unless the observer is inside a hide and observing.

    As you suspect there will not be any co-operative female. It is only the bonded pair which will do all the parental chores by turns.

  2. Kobus

    Hi there

    I am from South Africa and have around 9 pairs of laughing doves breeding in my garden. I noticed that some nests have up to 5 eggs in them. Is this normal or are there some females making use of “surrogate” nests to lay their eggs. In these nests with multiple eggs there are two birds incubating the eggs at any given time. Just wondering.



    • BESG

      It is possible that two females laid their eggs in the same nest. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs.

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