Nesting behaviour of the Spotted Dove

For the more than a few mornings in May 2013, a pair of Spotted Doves (Streptopelia chinensis) was heard duetting while hidden among a leafy branch of the Blue Mahang (Macaranga hyeni) tree that was covered with the scrambling Luffa plant (Luffa aegyptica) (above). The duetting started as early as 0730 hours and lasted from 5-10 minutes to as long as 40 minutes. When disturbed from their perches, they fly off to continue somewhere else. During evenings they were not in the tree.

Both doves were perching close together, the male(?) singing all the time. The female rarely sang. Obviously they were in courtship mode – see also HERE (above).

Nest building and egg laying
In due course they constructed a simple nest of flimsy twigs and other materials – see also HERE. On the evening of 18th May, a dove was seen in the nest (above). Its partner was not around. The female had probably laid an egg and an adult was incubating it.

Two days later a call was heard at around 0900 hours. A dove was perching nearby. After a while it flew into the nest (above). A few moments later the dove in the nest flew off and the one that flew in started singing. This was obviously an incubation shift change. The next morning a series of songs were heard, followed by another at around 1030 hours. This time one dove flew out of the nest and another flew in.

Addition of more nesting material to the nest
Subsequent observations revealed that on most mornings the outgoing dove flew back with a twig and passsed it to its mate to insert in the nest (below). This may be repeated up to five times. Each time a piece of nesting material was delivered to the nest, the incubating dove sang. Sometimes the song was made as the delivering dove flew off. The doves were continually adding nesting materials throughout the incubating period.

Hatching of the egg
At 0730 hours on 31st May, the dove in the nest responded to a song from outside. One hour later this was repeated. Half an hour after this second song, a dove was seen on the ground below the nest with a slender twig between its mandibles. It flew to the nest, inserted it and flew off. The other dove had flown off a few seconds earlier. Both adults were on the ground, leaving the nest unguarded This was one of two instances observed when the nest was left unguarded, albeit for a very while. Then suddenly both adults returned to the nest, one with a twig. And just as suddenly one flew off with half an eggshell, landed on a branch of a nearby tree and dropped the shell. After 13 days of incubation the single egg in the nest had hatched.

The following morning shift change saw further reinforcement of the nest as the adult that was relieved of its brooding duty brought various pieces of nesting materials from slender twigs to pieces of grass rhizome. And each time there was a welcoming song from the brooding adult. After three hours and about 39 pieces of nesting materials later, this activity stopped. The adults continued bringing new nesting materials for the nest during the entire brooding period.

Chick predated
On the morning of 5th June, the nest appeared unguarded. Sensing that something was amiss, I gently shook the branch where the nest was. Faint cries were heard, indicating that the chick was alive. A Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor) was seen moving around nearby. At around 0947 hours an adult arrived and sang, remaining on the branch of a nearby tree. It flew to the ground and moved around until 1020 hours when it flew to a branch and sang again. This was followed by another song ten minutes later. The nest remained unguarded.

At noon when no adult returned to the nest, I decided to investigate. When the branches were moved slightly, breast feathers floated down. On looking into the nest, a large chick was found dead inside, its head missing. It was covered with semi-plume feathers. The chick was only 6 days old (top).

I suspected the resident Plantain Squirrel (Callosciurus notatus singapurensis) was responsible – see HERE. An adult must have tried to frighten off the predator and in the process its breast semi-plume feathers were shed – see HERE. The Changeable Lizard was lurking around possibly because of the presence of flies around the dead chick.

Nest details
As the nest was abandoned, it was retrieved for examination (above). It was a deep cup untidily constructed from various plant materials. The nest was 15 x 10 cm at the top and 8 cm thick, the pile narrowing down slightly towards the base as the nest was lodged in the fork of a branch. This is contrary to a flimsy flat platform of twigs as described by Baptista et al. (1999), Gibbs et al. (2001), Wells (1999) and Wells & Wells (2001). The nest had no lining.

There were a total of 244 pieces of nesting materials, mostly of twigs and pieces roots, grass rhizomes, etc., each from about 5 cm to one as long as 25 cm. This would mean that an adult made that many trips in the construction and reinforcing of the nest. These pieces were not firmly locked together and only minimum efforts were needed to dismantle the nest.

Most of the materials were picked from my garden as well a along the road. Some pieces were identified (above, scale in inches): 1. Luffa (Luffa aegyptica) tendril; 2. Luffa stem; 3. Luffa leaf; 4. Blue Mahang (Macaranga hyeni) leaf; 5. Lesser Clover-leaved Desmodium (Desmodium triflorum); 6. Firecracker Plant (Russelia equisetiformis) stems; 7. Grass rhizome; 8. Rabbit’s-foot Fern (Davellia denticulata) frond; 9. Mempat (Cratoxylon formosum) twigs; and 10. Grass rhizome.

According to Wells & Wells (2001), among pigeons and doves, the male collects the nest materials and hand them to the female to assemble the nest. Furthermore, the male incubates the eggs for a portion of the daylight hours while the female incubates through the night. This has been observed in the Pink-necked Green-pigeon where the sexes are easily differentiated LINK and LINK. In the case of the Spotted Dove where the sexes are not easily differentiated, I am assuming that the species behave similarly. This would mean that the adult flying into the nest during the mornings was the male.

YC Wee
February 2014

Baptista, L. F., P. W. Trail & H. M. Horblit, 1997. Family Columbidae (pigeons and doves). In: del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott & J. Sargatal (eds.), Handbook of the birds of the world. Vol. 4. Sandgrouse to Cuckoos. Lynx Editions, Barcelona. Pp. 60-245.
2. Gibbs, D., Barnes, E. & Cox, J. (2001). Pigeons and doves: A guide to the pigeons and doves of the world. Sussex: Pica Press. 615 pp.
3. Wells, D.R., 1999. The birds of the Thai-Malay Peninsular. Vol. I, Non-passerines. Academic Press, London. 648 pp.
4. Wells, J. V. & A. C. Wells, 2001. Pigeons and doves. In: Elphick, C., J. B. Dunning & D. A. Sibley (eds.), The sibley guide to bird life and behavior. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. Pp. 319-325.

8 Responses

  1. Am

    Brilliant and detailed account. Sad to hear the chick did not make it. What are the chances that a single adult can successfully fend off a predatory squirrel?

      • Am

        Why did the squirrel not finish the rest of the chick though? Could it be that the purpose of this attack was territorial and not predatory?

        • YC

          I wonder too. Maybe, just maybe, the squirrel loves to eat the head? Anyone has the answer?

      • Amitava Nath

        Very nice and interesting article. Thanks for publishing. I am a bird photographer and bird watcher from India. I write a blog named “Birds of India” for aspiring birder those who want to know how to identify a bird and habits and habitats of Indian bird.

  2. Bird Ecology Study Group An eggshell in the garden…

    […] I have personally observed such behaviour in the Zebra Dove (Geopelia striata) that nested in a tree along the road outside my house LINK. I have also recently witnessed the removal of the eggshell in the nesting of a pair of Spotted Doves (Streptopelia chinensis) in a tree inside my garden LINK. […]

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