Spring is a time of joyous celebration at Whitebird Lofts. The obvious reason is that the earth is warming after one of the of the coldest winters I can remember. The days continue to grow longer. My white daffodils and white lilacs are in bloom. But, the best reason of all? We have Whitebird babies again!
We maintain two separate lofts–one designated for the working birds (the flying loft) and one for the pairs (the breeding loft). The residents of the flying loft include pairs from past years as well as singles. In the spring, it’s pretty much anything goes in the flying loft (wink). I should sell tickets. Normally, my married couples go back into their love condos around Thanksgiving so that the eggs hatch and the babies have a couple months to develop before training starts in April. This year, however, I just didn’t have the time to make all the preparations necessary, so my married couples weren’t able to set up housekeeping until early February. Worked out just fine, though, because it was just too cold to raise babies.
When the pairs enter the breeding loft, “flirting” begins instantaneously. In fact, it hardly stops all year round (blush). Last year’s daddy birds immediately flew up to their old nest boxes and began calling to their wives. Yes, he courts her all over again, (pay attention, ALL you lovebirds!), and ten days later the first egg is laid. Both parents take turns standing over the egg. On the third day the second egg is laid and that’s when the parents begin setting. The reason for this is so both eggs hatch at the same time. If they started incubating the first egg as soon it was laid, that egg would hatch two days earlier, and that baby would be WAY bigger than his nest mate and hog all the food. Mother Nature. Miracles.
The babies hatch in the morning. They start the day before chipping a perfect little ring around one end of their shell. On the 18th day of incubating, the top pops off in one piece, the babies falls out and mom arranges herself over them and opens her breast feathers to better share her warmth. it takes the babies a couple days before they can regulate their own body temperature. Dad sits from late morning to mid afternoon. Mom takes over and sits through the night. It’s a little lopsided, but at least he makes the effort. This first photo is of a three-minute old baby.
Pigeon and dove babies are altricial which means they are helpless when they hatch. Baby chickens are precocial. They hatch and then start running around looking for food. Baby pigeons need Mom and Dad for the first few weeks until they learn to feed themselves. FROM THE TMI DEPARTMENT–The term “nidifugous” is used to describe precocial babies that leave the nest soon after hatching, and “nidicolous” babies stay in the nest. I’ve never raised chickens, so I don’t know if they’re nidifugous or nidicolous. But, that’s ridiculous. And I digress.
The new babies–almost always two, once I got three!, are fed several times a day by both parents. Male doves and pigeons (same family of birds) are the only animal of their gender that can manufacture food in their bodies for their babies. It’s called pigeon milk. It’s a high protein, high fat substance, kind of like thick yogurt. After about a week, the parents introduce “big bird food” to their babies and begin loading them up with peas, corn, safflower, rice, wheat, barley, and milo. The babies are still semi-featherless and their skin fairly thin, so it’s easy to see their crops full of grain. GLOSSARY: Crop–that’s where the grain goes first, mixes with water, softens, so it can then go to the gizzard where it is smooshed up with the aid of grit. GLOSSARY: Grit–little tiny rocks that the birds eat, usually granite, mixed with salt, minerals, oyster shell, charcoal, and sometimes garlic that grinds up the food. Birds don’t have teeth.
At two months, the babies look like teenagers, but they’re as big as their parents. They’re still filling out and exercising their flying muscles. Just as puppies have to learn to coordinate their front and back legs (when pups run sideways, their back legs are going faster than their front legs), the baby birds learn to coordinate their wings. They take baths, and preen, and sun themselves. At this point, I don’t think any of the other birds have told them they’re going to have to work for a living. But, it wouldn’t matter, because these birds love to fly and are built for it! Stay tuned for Part Two: “Late Spring at Whitebird Lofts–Boot Camp”. Questions? Ask The Dove Lady!
The Dove Lady does NOT do well in the cold and would just as soon hibernate November-February. She thinks she was a reptile in a past life.