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Taming Doves

and other birds

 This page was developed because of the recommendation of a reader who was trying to tame a pair of ringneck doves.  Although I have included elsewhere some information on taming diamond doves, I felt that a page suitable for all doves and possibility for other birds would be useful for many readers.

First I should note that this article is not based on any research of the literature but rather is only the product of my own experience.

The person who wrote for advice was keeping two ringneck doves in an outside aviary and had only had his birds three weeks and had seen little progress.  I suggested that he would probably have difficulty with the birds if they were kept in an outside aviary where they would not be allowed to be close to him except for a very limited period during the day.  Although I have had no experience with outside aviaries, I suggested that I thought it could easily take six months before he would see much progress. Occasionally he hand fed the birds and they would come to him to get food but left once the food was gone.  I suggested that if he had time, he should hand feed the bird all their food.

The remainder of this article is strictly about birds that are kept inside one's home

Do not try any of the following taming techniques on a recently acquired bird until you have had the bird at least two weeks.  Birds are highly stressed after moving and need considerable time to adjust to their new surroundings.  If they are allowed to free fly they will often fly at high speeds into walls and other objects and seriously hurt or kill themselves.


An ideal room for this technique is a small room, like a bathroom that has only one or two places for a bird to land on besides besides the sink, commode, and floor.  (Do be sure any windows and mirrors are covered at first).  Take the bird's cage (only work with one bird at a time) to the room and shut the door.  Release the bird and let it fly and find a perch then pick it up by placing a finger or hand under its chest.  If it flies, then repeat the action as many times as necessary.  Once it settles down and does not fly away, maintain eye contact with it as it will usually try to look past you.  Talk to it or imitate its coos in a soft voice.  Hold it in front of your face and touch its beak to your nose.  Offer it water in a small container as it will probably be thirsty from flying. Later try to offer treats or other food. After a few days then try rubbing the bird's chest lightly, then scratch the birds neck, and finally pet the birds back.  Once you can pet the back of an unrestrained bird sitting on your hand the bird has really become relaxed.  To make it easier to catch a bird after perching that is very flighty, I turn off the lights before picking it up and then turn the lights back on again.  When the bird is calm enough that it becomes bored and starts to preen its feathers then the session can be ended.  I would terminate the session after ten minutes if no progress is being made and then try again the next day.  Repeat these sessions on a daily basis at the same time each day.  Birds like to have routines in their lives and if the taming session comes at an expected time of day the bird will be less stressed.

First releasing the birds in a small room has the advantage of there are few perches and that they can be picked up immediately after they land

Caution:  Any time the bird starts panting, return the bird to its cage, and try again another day,


This technique involves having a release bird fly the longer distances between one side of a large room and the other.  My feeling is for the time spent walking after the bird the birds until you can pick them up is less productive than using a very small room as mentioned above.  You might think that the birds would tire with longer flights but the slow flights made in the confines of a small room probably require more energy that a longer flight made at a faster speed.  Also in a small room they stop flying sooner and you pick them up faster.  When they fly again they usually end up perching quickly so you can pick them up again immediately.  If they are not stressed out, they often will remain sitting on your finger even if they are not tired because they realize they can not get away from you.

Since I let my birds fly free sometimes I usually have to catch a few to return them to their cages

If the birds were inside, I would suggest that you "chase" one at a time (slowly so they do not become frightened) back and forth across a room until the bird is tired enough so you can pick them up and get them to sit on your finger. Perhaps you can do this in the aviary but it may not work, I don't know. If the bird flies away again, just continue following them and try to pick them up again. Do not chase them by running or they will become too frightened and they will fly too fast and and end up hyperventilating. The could also crash into a wall and injure themselves. If this happens stop and try again after the bird calms down or if it seems too agitated wait another day. Once they are perched on your finger or hand, talk to them or imitate their coos, and maintain eye contact as long as they will stay on your finger. You can also offer a treat and water as they will be thirsty from flying back and forth.

If you are using this technique simply to catch a bird and return it to its cage and the bird is starting to fly too fast and pant, then reduce the light level in the room until the bird is reluctant to fly and then pick the bird up an return it to its cage.  If the bird does start to fly when the room is at a low light level, turn the light back on again immediately and wait until it lands and then repeat the process

Above all avoid stressing the bird.  Err on the side of caution. If you feel things are not going right, stop and try another day.


In January I received a pair of zebra doves from a breeder and they were very wild to start with. The female bird had an infected toe because of exposure to cold temperatures last winter so I had to catch the bird four times a day to apply medication. At first I chased the female back and forth across the living room more than ten times before she tired. But within a few days I would chase him one time to the top of a bird cage and she let me pick her up. Within a week she was sitting on my finger and allowing me to apply the medication without restraining her in any way. She also accepted being cuddled and petted however she did not express any affection toward me, and after three months he till shows no affection that I can recognize. But she does not fly away either. She just sits there and looks at me but seems very cold unlike my other 16 doves which all seem warm in comparison. In time I am sure things will change.


  1. Try to spend time with the bird every day at the same time of day

  2. Where the same or at least similar clothes.  Never wear clothes that include red, pink, or yellow colors.  White or light pastels seem to work the best.

  3. Do not bring other people or pets in the vicinity of the training area

  4. Avoid areas having any loud noises.  Radios and television should be turned off

  5. Avoid any sudden and abrupt movements

  6. Talk to or imitate the birds own coos

  7. Offer food or treats

  8. If other methods do not work and you have time, consider hand feeding your dove all of its food 

Taming birds, depending on their situation, can be a very time consuming and frustrating experience. So first of all I would suggest that three weeks is a very short period of time to see much progress. When I purchased a single male ring neck for my daughter 16 years ago, it took about six months before the bird was tame enough to be held and petted for more than a minute or so. But within a year he would come to her looking for love and affection, and always stayed close to her when she was studying.

And this was a single bird that was kept in a home and allowed to be out of her cage except when no one was home or at night. Your two birds will probably never become as close to you as my daughter's ring neck became close to her simply because they have each other. Another problem is you are keeping your birds in an outside aviary so they will not be spending that much time being close to humans. I do not have any personal experience with outside aviaries but I would expect the time to achieve the same degree of taming as an inside bird would be more than doubled.

Here are five birds situations that run from the easy taming situation to the hard taming situation and you can see where your situation lies

1 - A hand raised baby (a few diamond doves that were not fed by their parents)
2 - A single juvenile bird (some injured wild doves)
3 - A handicapped bird (our white albino ringneck - vision impaired)
4 - A single adult bird (my daughter's ringneck)
5 - A bonded pair of adult birds

And here is my list of ten levels of taming for what they are worth. I just dreamed this up based on the experience I have had with my doves and some wild birds over the years.

1 - Dangerously wild, may be stressed from moving.  May fly away at high speed and crash into walls.  Should be caged and no attempt should be made at training until the birds is more relaxed.
2 - Wild, flies away as you approach
3 - Will come to you to ask for food (Canada jays, chickadees, geese, grackles, wild ducks, pigeons - often will allow hand feeding).
4 - Will try to communicate with you to meet their needs for food, water, etc. in various ways
5 - Will perch on your hand or finger and not just to get food.  Will listen to you when you talk which can be seen by direct eye contact and sometimes by the tilting of the head.
6 - Will come to you and ask to be hugged and petted after being stressed.  Often will fly to you when worried about other people and land on your head or possibly your shoulders.
7 - Will sit near you for long periods of time if you stay in one place (working at a desk, using a computer, watching television, reading, etc.) Will tend to follow you around your home.  May come to you when called.
8 - Will express affection by wing shaking, "kissing", snuggling, and other actions
9 - Will sit on you and sometime go to sleep. If you take a nap the birds will often come and lay on you.  If you sleep too long the bird may attempt to wake you up.
10 - Bonds on you - females want a nest so they can incubate eggs - males do bow coos for you and your belongings -females will asked to be petted to obtain stimulation to lay eggs. They often will find a dark corner in the room and sit down and do nest coos and shake their wings until you pet them.  Also the bird will greet you with the affectionate coo when it comes to you. 

With a pair of adult birds, I doubt if you will get beyond level five but of course I could be wrong.

In regards to what else you could do with your birds - You could try to tame your birds one at a time by keeping one in your home. But if your two birds are bonded, to me that would be cruel punishment. Their main interest now is probably to find a nest site and have babies. Of course if they had babies, then after they are weaned, you could work on taming the babies. That should be much easier than taming the two adults. And if you really want some work you could try hand feeding the babies

If they do want to build a nest you can provide them with a little nesting material to get started and then try handing the male pieces of nest material when he is on or near the nest. Usually, once you build up their level of trust, they will take pieces of nesting material in their beak from you, and place it in the nest. Or if the female is in the nest, the male will accept the nesting material from you and give it to the female for placement. And when the birds are double nesting near the end of the incubation period, I have offered them treats and water, which after some initial problems were gratefully received.  Now if these birds see me go by when they on their nest, they will call me so I will get them something. 



(1)  Brown, Danny,  A Guide to Pigeons, Doves & Quail, Their Management, Care & Breeding, South Tweeds Heads, Australia: Australian Birdkeeper 1995, 

(1)   Gibbs, David; Barnes, Eustace; Cox, John ,   Pigeons and Doves, A Guide to Pigeons and Doves of the World, London: Yale University Press 2001, 

(2)  Goodwin, Derek, Pigeons and Doves of the World, London: Trustees of the British Museum (Natural History), 1967, 

(3)  Gos, Michael W., Doves. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1989, p. 86

(4)  Vriends, Matthew M., PhD.,  Doves, A Complete Pet Owner's Manual. Happauge, NY: Barrons Educational Series, Inc., 1994 ,

©2006 - Helen White

Helen White
P. O. Box 367,
Tallahassee, FL 32302-0367

Last revised on: April 16, 2006