The Feisty Inca Dove

Learn about the Inca doves, the lively, pugnacious little doves that is always on the go.

The Inca dove (Scardafella inca) is a small dove that is a little larger than a diamond dove (Geopelia cuneata) and a lot smaller than a common, domestic ringnecked dove (Streptopelia capicola). The Inca is a busy, active dove like many Latin American species. Incas can be pugnacious and quarrelsome, yet they are an excellent aviary bird.

Adult Description Of  The Inca Dove
This dove has a longish, brown tail. The throat is a dirty white, forehead a pale grayish pink, the crown is also a pinkish color, as is the head, face and neck. Most of the body is brownish-gray and nearly white in some areas of the body. The breast is buff color with some pink and nearly white on the belly. All the covert feathers are narrowly scalloped with dark gray giving the birds a scaly or scalloped look. No scalloping on the breast or forehead is present. The secondaries are dark gray, primaries are reddish brown. The eyes are dark orangish-red; the bill is black, the legs and feet are flesh color in young birds and pinkish-purple in older birds.

Both sexes are nearly alike. The female may be a tiny bit smaller and less pink in areas than the male is. It is difficult to sex Incas until they are sexually mature.

Some individual Inca doves are nearly black. The prevailing theory is that these black individuals are doves that were kept out of sunshine. This theory does not hold true in my opinion. I have witnessed nearly black Incas in the Arizona desert. Plenty of bright sunshine there! My personal opinion is that those individuals with a lot of black or nearly all black are mutations that occur in nature. Most mutations do not survive long in the wild although some very black Inca doves obviously do. It has been my experience that totally jet-black doves in any species (if there is such a specimen) are highly unlikely to survive very long.

The Inca dove is sometimes mistaken, even by experienced dove fanciers, as a zebra dove (Geopelia striata). However, these two species are not related. Inca doves are from the Americas and zebra doves are from Australia. But it is easy to confuse the two because zebra and Inca doves are nearly the same size and shape, with similar markings. One difference is that zebra doves have thin, black stripes and Inca doves have scalloped, black lines.

An easy way to make a distinction between the two species is to look at their eyes. Inca doves have orangish-red eyes. Zebra doves have gray or blue eyes, sometimes even a combination of the two colors. The orbital skin or skin surrounding the eye on the zebra dove is greenish blue, blue or even bluish-gray.

Several months ago, I received a call from an excited dove fancier. He said that he was able to purchase some “very rare” black zebra doves. When I saw the doves in question — you guessed it — they were Inca doves not black zebra doves.

Inca Doves’ Environment
This little dove is native to the southern United States, especially Arizona, New Mexico, central Texas and parts of southeastern California. They are also native to Central America. They prefer open country, although the Inca dove can be seen in parks, gardens and cultivated areas, including villages and smalltowns.

Feeding Habits Of Inca Doves
Inca doves eat a number of small seeds. Incas are also fond of cultivated grains such as wheat, oats and smaller seeds. Their main diet/food mainly consists of weed and grass seeds.

In captivity, I feed our Incas a variety of small seeds: finch mix, wild bird seed, niger, safflower and spray millet seeds. They also relish ground, raw peanuts (whole or half peanuts are too large for these doves to swallow). They will also eat small amounts of steamed rice and grated raw vegetables.

Housing Inca Doves
One pair of Inca doves will thrive quite nicely in a small 3- by 6- by 6-foot high aviary. Larger aviaries can accommodate more than one pair, as long as they are spacious and offer areas where doves can hide. Inca doves are pugnacious and can be downright mean to each other and competing males. I would never keep more than two pairs together, regardless of how large the aviary is.

Inca doves love sunshine. An aviary that is sunny, dry and draft free will suit their needs quite well.

Purchasing Inca Doves
I see Inca doves offered for sale at pet stores, bird marts and by private bird breeders. They are always reasonably priced and available throughout the country. A word of caution to the purchaser or the seller: Inca doves are a native species. You must have a federal permit to legally keep any native species. Without a permit, any native species in your procession could result in a hefty fine and confiscation of your birds. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. The fine is $500 per bird!

Purchase Inca doves from a reputable breeder that has a federal permit. He or she will not sell birds to anyone that does not also have a permit. Wild-caught Inca doves are too wild to keep in a small aviary. It is best to purchase doves that have been bred in captivity. Many wild-caught doves have external and internal parasites. Quarantine all new doves; treat for parasites and stress.

Breeding Habits Of Inca Doves
Incas make flimsy nests in bushes or small trees. Many times they use abandoned nests of other avian species. In captivity, they nest in small baskets or boxes. I like to use small, cone-shaped, wire nests that I make out of ¼-inch hardware cloth. I fasten the nests to the wall or branches of bushes. The Incas prefer secluded areas.

The hen will lay two small white eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for a period of 14 to 16 days. The young fledge two weeks after hatching. The young Incas are very vulnerable at this tender age. Young Incas can get chilled or die if the parents do not feed or brood them at night.

If I find young Incas on the floor of the aviary, I gently place them on a branch or in some bushes. The parents usually seek them out and take care of their needs. Young doves of any species are vulnerable on the ground. Aggressive doves can kill or injure them, or they can become lost and die of thirst or starvation. Getting newly fledged doves off the ground seems to prevent many problems. Once young doves are older, they are able to fend for themselves.

Inca doves are lively, pugnacious little doves that enjoy life. They are always on the go. They are fascinating to watch and relatively easy to breed in captivity. Inca doves are worth the extra effort it takes to be able to legally keep them in an aviary.

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