Dove Behavior, Sexing Doves I, Sexing Doves II, Sexing Doves III, Sexing Doves IV, Sexing 2-egg clutches

Go to Wilmer's Main Page

Wilmer J. Miller
American Dove Association Newsletter August 1974
Pigeon Science and Genetics Newsletter 1:21 1976
American Pigeon Journal 67: 139 1978

Most of us do depend on behavior to distinguish sexes in doves and pigeons. Experienced fanciers need only spend few minutes observing behavior among a group of birds to decide which is what sex. But we get fooled. That bird which we thought was a young female was a little too young, and turned out to be a male a little later. Or.. "It was so big and it’s head so square, I thought sure it was a male."

If the birds are adjusted to their cage and in an appropriate part of the reproductive cycle, usually one observation period will allow an accurate differentiation of sex. But not all of us are experienced. So just what is the behavior that can allow us to infer the sex? I decribed the essential activities to look for in 1957 in the Journal Animal Behaviour, Vol. 6 pages 1-6, but I won’t go into as much detail here. Four or five behavior characters can be used for the ringneck dove, Streptopelia risoria.


(1) The bow-coo. Only males give bow coos under ordinary conditions, however, females long isolated from males may do so irregularly. This is the fastest coo in courting behavior, and is always directed at a particular bird with an accompanying head bow. The feet often alternate in "stamping". Perch coos and nest coos are slower and softer and the nest coo is always accompanied by wing "flipping". Perch coos and nest coos may be given by both sexes. [An exception discovered recently seems to happen in particular stocks. A tufted female mated and raising young (3rd clutch) gave repeated bow coos to a next door neighbor!]

(2) Billing. the female may put her bill inside the males mouth after squab-like begging movements and be fed token amounts.

(3) Sex crouch. To culminate courtship in mated pairs, the female will squat down, tuck her head in close and raise her shoulders preparatory to supporting the males feet.

(4) Sex-mount. (Treading) The male repeatedly cranes his neck above the female (which is in a sex crouch). He may sporadically "preen" between wing tips and rump, fluff rump and posterior feathers, then mount the female, both facing the same direction. The tail of the male bends and swings and his wings flutter to maintain balance. Within seconds the cloaca meet in quick copulation. The "laugh" or challenge note normally is given immediately after copulation by both sexes. A long isolated pair of females may mount each other.

(5) Driving. This is much less obvious in ringnecks than in domestic pigeons and generally is not suitable for inferring sex.

(6) Display flight. the male flies upward wing claping, then glides down. Since our birds are seldom free flying, we rarely notice this character.

Certainly, of these sex behavior characters which can allow one to infer sex, the most frequent one is the bow-coo.

It’s easy -- after you get enough practice!




Wilmer J. Miller

The only easy way to sex young doves is with sex-linked colors, but not every mating is suitable. The sex-linked genetic characters known in ringneck doves, Streptopelia risoria, are the oldest color variations: blond (= fawn = dilute) and white (extreme dilute) in which the near half of the under side of the major tail feathers is slightly pigmented. Genetically, blond is a recessive mutant to the normal wild type dark. White is recessive to both normal and blond. the colors were noted by C. O. Whitman in a 1919 publication by the Carnegie Institution of Washington. We’ll ignore other colors for present purposes.

By sex-linked we mean the controlling gene is on the sex chromosome called Z in birds. Male birds have two Z chromosomes and females have one Z alone or a Z and one called W depending on the species. Not much is known in birds about these chromosomes. Only recently have the chickens and pigeons been shown to have the Z-W set up. For our purposes the W is inert, if it is present at all in doves.

Those genetically trained can tag the Z symbol with the wild type (D+) or blond (dB) or white (dw) gene symbols and manipulate the expected outcome on paper. Others can develop a rule of thumb, or refer to the following kind of results in the tables below.

Since males have two (sex-linked) color genes and the females only one, the males can have a dominant gene hide or obscure effects of the presence of a recessive one. Thus, a dark male can carry (heterozygous) a gene for blond (D+dB), or it can carry a gene for white (D+ dw). A blond male can carry a gene for white (dBdw). Or the males maysbe pure (homozygous), D+D+, dBdB, or dwdw, for the color they show. But females have only one (sex-linked) color gene (hemizygous) and show whatever they carry: D+, dB, or dw. Alternative forms of genes are called alleles and this represents a multiple allelic sex-linked series described byd L. J. Cole in 1930 (Anat. Rec. 47:389).

If one selects the parents as a lighter colored male with a darker colored female, then the offspring’s sex can be inferred with complete accuracy as the reverse (!): darker offspring are males and lighter ones are females. This is understandably called criss-cross inheritance. The males contribute one of their two genes (equal random chance which) to all offspring; females contribute their one gene or nothing (equal random chance which) to all offspring.

Specific examples are best. A white male mated with a bond female yields white daughters and blond sons (which carry white). See mating type 1 in the table.


Table 1. Sex-linked colors in ringneck doves in mating combinations which allow the sex of some or all the offspring to be inferred by color.


*1/4 of the offspring, or half of that sex. This frequency occurs in mating types 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.


Table II. Sex-linked colors in ringneck doves in mating combinations which allow the sex of some or all the offspring to be inferred by color.


Dove Behavior, Sexing Doves I, Sexing Doves II, Sexing Doves III, Sexing Doves IV, Sexing 2-egg clutches

Go to Wilmer's Main Page