Laughing dove facts
The laughing dove (Streptopelia senegalensis), commonly called the palm or Senegal dove, is common in aviaries throughout the United States and Canada. It shares a kinship with the common domestic ringneck dove (S. capicola) and many other similar doves.
The laughing dove is primarily a bird of both arid regions and woodlands in its native Africa. It has adapted well to living with humans and is abundant around farms, villages and cities. Laughing doves can be seen feeding alongside their larger cousins, feral rock pigeons (Columba livia). This species is found throughout Africa and the Middle East and is introduced and thriving in western Australia.
This beautiful dove is a bit smaller than a common domestic ringnecked dove. It differs from most of the other Streptopelia species because it lacks the black half-ring around its neck. Instead of a half-ring, the laughing dove has a patch of specialized plumage on the breast. The tiny jewel-like, bifurcated feathers have glossy rust-red tips and black centers. This dove looks as if it is wearing a jeweled necklace that vanishes and reappears in the sunlight. Both sexes have this exquisite "necklace."
The adult male has a pinkish head and neck, which shades to a pale gray on the back and upper tail coverts. The wings are a very rich reddish chestnut brown. The primary flights are burnt umber, the tail is gray with black and some white halves on the feathers. The belly is gray, which shades to nearly pure white on the undertail coverts. The adult female is colored very much like the adult male. Sexes are difficult to visually distinguish, although the males tend to be a bit larger and brighter. The laughing dove is the smallest member of the genus Streptopelia in Africa and, undoubtedly, the most handsome.
The bill in both sexes is black. The eyes are dark umber or black. The feet are a deep reddish-purple. Natural mutations are common in this species. Pied laughing doves are regularly seen. Pied birds can have a few white feathers around the head and neck or be nearly 50 percent white. No two pieds are alike. I have a male laughing dove that is nearly 75 percent white. Others are mostly 20 percent white. Pied laughing doves are especially attractive if the white feathers are scattered over the bird's entire body. The normal or wild-type color is, however, dominant. I suspect that birds that were pecked or lose feathers unnaturally when young are more susceptible to having feathers regrow white. This condition is common in other species of doves and even exists in domestic pigeons.
The most distinguishing characteristic of this species is the voice. Watch any nature show about Africa, and the soft, melodious cooing is that of the laughing dove. The coo is pitched and uttered in phrases of four to eight notes, each enduring about a second. The call is difficult to describe. It is very soft, almost has a nasal quality and is pleasant to the human ear. The "laugh" is uttered after mating. Loud wing clapping often occurs as the bird flies.
In the wild, this dove eats a variety of seeds, grains and small insects, as well as fruits. In captivity, laughing doves thrive on a high quality finch mix. I also like to provide some soft food as well. Occasionally, the birds dine on steamed rice and vegetables, raw grated carrots and broccoli.
Laughing dove breeding
Laughing doves breed well under most conditions. They are monogamous, pairing for life. The courtship is similar to other species in this genus, particularly to the European turtle dove (S. turtur). The normal clutch is two creamy-white eggs. Laying generally occurs in the morning, and incubation begins when the first egg is laid. Both parents incubate and are very attentive. Hatching occurs on the 13th or 14th day of incubation. The newly hatched squabs have nearly black skin covered with yellow down. The squabs grow quickly on "pigeon milk," a thick yellowish substance made in the crops of both parents. The young fledge soon after the 12th or 13th day after hatching. The parents still continue to feed them for an additional three or four days.
Housing laughing doves is relatively easy. Provide a draft-free, dry shelter with lots of sunshine, and the doves will do well. They can be acclimated to stay outdoors all year round. A well-insulated aviary will do just fine. Laughing doves can tolerate below-freezing temperatures for short periods of time. Because this species is from Africa, it withstands high temperatures when shade is provided. They are as hardy as domestic ringnecked doves.
This species is hardy, affordable and available from local breeders. The laughing dove is a nonaggressive species and will not harm other small avian species. The genus Streptopelia is an excellent choice for the novice as well as the seasoned dove collector.
Several years ago, a subspecies of smaller laughing doves became available. They are exactly like their counterparts, only nearly one-third smaller. The small birds are harder to find and a bit brighter than their larger kin. I bought several pairs that were recent imports. They were much redder than my current stock. Laughing doves are one of my favorites in the Streptopelia genus.
Unmated laughing doves should not be kept with domestic ringnecked doves or doves belonging to the genus Streptopelia. They will readily interbreed with them. Hybrids are usually infertile, although in some instances, males may be fertile. I personally do not recommend hybrid breeding.