Calcium Deficiency in Collared Doves
We start to see the arrival of early fledgling Collared Doves between December and March. Technically speaking, these birds are, in fact, fledglings, and whilst the 'common' practice would be to advise not to pick up fledglings (which is generally true when it comes to other species), it should be said that any young Pigeon or Dove that sits there and lets you approach it or touch it should ALWAYS be picked up, as both these species, at this time of year, are highly likely to have Calcium Deficiency.
They will usually be located below the nest and fully feathered but with unformed tail and sometimes primary feathers (sheathed), making it impossible for them to take flight.
Their limbs and beaks are often soft and rubbery, which can present them with major joint and movement problems; in more severe cases, they are unable even to stand up, let alone walk. The condition itself, is actually quite painful to the birds.
This effectively will make them prone to predation or starvation and unless they are picked up/ rescued they will perish.
The calcium deficiency is caused due to a lack of Vitamin D from natural sunlight at this time of year. But why do they choose to start breeding so early, considering the unsuitable conditions?
Collared doves are now a common sight in our gardens, but this hasn't always been the case. They are not truly native to the UK, and they have only been recorded to be breeding here since the 1950s.
However, they were not manually introduced. Instead, they came over here on their own accord. They actually originated in the South East of Europe and the Middle East where breeding
in December/January would have still provided a sufficient amount of sunlight for them.
Obviously, here the UK, the lack of sunlight will and does have a negative setback on them. The young don't receive enough calcium to develop strong bones, feathers and beaks. And eventually when it comes to fledging time. They try to fly, find their legs and wings are too weak and they simply fall to the ground.
Once on the ground, the parent birds will continue to feed the hopeless youngster a couple of times but they will soon realise that the baby is a lost cause and will eventually abandon it to its fate.
We do get asked frequently as to whether or not there is anything that can done to help them in gardens. Sadly, there isn't anything in terms of 'direct' treatment. But we do encourage to help feed garden birds, especially throughout the cold winter months.
Whilst many have suggested that offering calcium rich foods on bird tables 'may' help, the truth is that the youngsters will seldom absorb enough to correct the deficiency through food alone. Plus without knowing how many birds or youngsters are depending on your food source, it would be almost impossible to serve the correct dosages.
As mentioned above, we would always encourage people to feed the birds in their gardens, but when it comes to treatments etc, really the best solution is always for the bird to get help from a reputable wildlife rescue centre.
Thankfully, this condition is usually reversable. The treatment we use for calcium deficiency involves calcium supplements, UV light treatment and in more severe cases, will we place them into a sling to take the weight of their rubbery and brittle bone structure to prevent the bones from forming into the wrong positions, usually alongside anti inflammatory drugs to help with pain management.
Once treated, the birds often spend a period of around 2 weeks in a soft-release aviary. Collared doves can and are successfully soft released into gardens not inhabited by cats but also any private woodland is suitable and can provide an ideal habitat. We tend to leave the aviary hatch open so that the birds have the opportunity to come back and forth to the safety of their aviary, we also provide them with food during the first couple weeks whilst the birds find their feet.
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Collared doves that were successfully treated for calcium deficiencies in a soft-release aviary.
A collared dove receiving treatment for calcium deficiency.in our wildlife rescue centre.
Collared doves that are admitted into care for calcium deficiency will usually require and undergo UV light therapy alongside calcium supplements.
Calcium deficient cases often present poor feather and skeletal structural quality.