There are many methods and gadgets folks use for feeding baby doves (which drink regurgitated crop milk from the inside of their parents' mouths), but I have found that the easiest method is to cropfeed. Contrary to popular opinion, when done correctly with the proper formula at the right consistency and warmth, the babies do not object at all; in fact, they open their beaks wide and practically swallow the feeding tube, with obvious enjoyment.
There are several sites on the net which explain how to feed baby doves by using the rubber tip of a dropper or a finger from a rubber glove - and I've used both. But they are ONLY going to work if the little baby dove WANTS to eat. If he does not, then you have to cropfeed him.
Please note that Diamond Dove babies (unlike babies of the larger doves) might need to be several days old before they are even large enough to handfeed.
I only use the flexible plastic feeding tubes, never the rigid plastic or metal ones.You can find out where to purchase them on the "Bird Supplies Resources" page.
Besides using the proper formula (below) you can also extend the use of a flexible plastic feeding syringe by swapping syringe parts. The first thing to go on a syringe will be bit of rubber at the end of the plunger because it expands and contracts as it becomes wet and then dries out. You can lengthen the life of the rubber by making sure that you rinse the syringe out in cool or warm water - never hot. But when the time comes that the rubber has expanded so much that depressing (or expanding) the plunger is difficult, all you need to do is swap the plunger with another of the same size syringe. Needleless 1cc syringes can be purchased over-the-counter at pharmacies in some states and on the internet. Even 1cc diabetic syringes can be used by taking the plunger out and inserting it into the feeding syringe.
Of course, the parts you replace should be from UNUSED syringes only.
I prefer flexible plastic cropfeeding tubes and a rice flour, corn flour (or some similar finely powdered ingredient) based nestling formula (versus wheatmeal or cornmeal). There is a knack to it, and there are many good sites on the net which explain how to cropfeed in detail, with photos. I purchase the cropfeeding syringes from finchniche.com and I use ONLY the following formulas (and believe me, I've tried them all):
1. Lafeber's Instant Nutri-Start Baby Bird Formula. An excellent rice-flour based formula, mixes to a super-smooth consistency. It's a bit low in protein, though. You can use it from day 1 to weaning, but the babies will not feather out or gain weight as quickly as with a higher protein formula.
2. Roudybush Squab Diet (from day 1 thru day 7 or longer depending on the health of the baby) and then Roudybush Formula 3 (from day 8 thru weaning). The Squab Diet is super rich in protein, which is exactly what these baby doves need; when being fed by their parents, the cropmilk is exceptionally rich in protein for the first week.
BOTH of the above formulas are not only the easiest for the babies to digest, but they are the easiest to use with the flexible plastic feeding syringes (mentioned above) and will double or even triple the life of the plastic feeding syringe. When using the Exact baby formula (or any other), I'd go through several syringes in a week or two. When using the very smooth formulas above, I use only one syringe for the entire feeding period of a baby dove. :-)
Normally the eggs hatch a day apart, sometimes 2 days apart. If one hatches much later than the other, or one chick is not thriving, you can lose the smaller one because he cannot compete with his larger sibling. Oftentimes it's best to try to save the baby by cropfeeding. In this instance, you can remove the baby to cropfeed and then put it back in the nest to cuddle with the sibling or parent for warmth.
If only one baby hatches, and you disturb the parents, especially during the first week, the parents might decide that it is better to abandon that single baby and prepare to breed and raise the next set of babies. If you see a single baby, who is not being fed, is cold and lethargic, remove him to a hospital cage with a heat lamp and cropfeed him.
If babies are taken from their parents too early, they may begin to lose condition and "go light". They will be less active than usual, often staying on the bottom of the cage with their feathers fluffed. If you feel their breast bone, it will stick out - meaning that they have lost fat and muscle and are wasting away. If this happens, they only way to save the babies is to cropfeed them. Putting them back with their parents often doesn't work because the parents are intent on raising another clutch. I haven't had much luck with foster parents. Plus, The babies will need the additional warmth of a heat lamp. Best to put them in a small hospital cage with a heat lamp, where they can be quickly and easily handled.
With care, though, Diamond Doves are EASY to breed. Just make sure that you don't disturb the Doves while they are incubating, or within the first week after the babies hatch, and make sure they are eating well on their own before removing them from their parents. Then 9 times out of 10 - they will have no problem at all and you will not need to handfeed.
It's been my experience that cropfeeding seems to work best for the tiny Diamond Doves, but for larger doves, you can improvise an "artificial crop" for them to drink from.
One evening early last Spring, right after a storm, I saw a Mourning Dove nest on the ground. The nest was a very poorly made one - just a few twigs, and the parents were a very young couple (this was probably their first nest). The 2-day-old babies were on the ground, one was dead, and the other alive, though his eyes were unopened; he was naked and unable to move.
It was beginning to rain again and night was coming on. He'd never survive the cold rain even if the neighbor's cats didn't find him, so I brought him in. (The parents went on to build another sturdier nest and successfully raised 2 other little ones.)
Aloysius J. Finkledove (nicknamed "A.J.") was tiny, but he was determined to survive.
(A.J. drinking from the finger of a plastic glove. He was 4 days old in the above picture, his eyes had just opened. )
(A.J. drinking from a shot glass which had a piece of vet wrap bandage across the top fixed by an elastic. I poked a hole in the bandage for him to put his beak into. He was 17 days old in the above picture.)
(weaned and 6 weeks old in the above picture, A..J. was very devoted to his "Daddy")
Baby doves learn to peck seed by watching their parents. I put baby A.J. in with an older female Diamond Dove, and even though he was vastly larger than her, she took him in stride and taught him how to peck seed and drink water from a dish.
A lovely lady by the name of Jill Long contacted me about an orphaned baby mourning dove, whose Mom and sibling had been killed by a cat. She brought baby Peanut over in a box which contained a soft towel. Tiny Baby Peanut was dwarfed by the towel. Peanut had no real feathers yet, only pin feather, though his eyes were open.
Baby Peanut has his first feeding of Squab formula (a substitute for the crop milk he would have been drinking from both his parents). The syringe is only 1 cc, so you can see how tiny Peanut is compared to it.
(below) After only a few days, his baby feathers emerged and he tripled in size.
So far, Baby Peanut seems to prefer being fed by the syringe, which he opens his mouth wide for. He is no longer hugging the heat lamp, but moving away from it a bit because he now has feathers to keep himself warm. He is a healthy, happy, chubby little dove; and time will tell whether he is really a boy or a girl.
(above, Baby Peanut, probably about 12 days old, is now perching on my finger and exercising his wings. At this stage in the wild he would be perching on the edge of the nest and flapping his wings - strengthening them in preparation for his first flight. Today he was moved from the small hospital cage to a regular small cage. I put a low perch, close to the floor, so he can practice perching, but still have baby blankets on the cage floor for softness. As he gets older, he is going to prefer to stay on a perch rather than on the bottom of the cage, and at that time I will put paper towels on the cage floor. He still has access to a heat lamp, though does not hug it closely.)
(Above, at about 12 days of age, he seems to be growing and filling out daily)
(Above, Peanut as a splendid young adult mourning dove.)
Peanut's pelvic bones are getting closer together, and it does indeed look as though he is a "he." I didn't have an adult Diamond Dove available to teach him to peck seed, but I did have an older rescue Cockatiel in a flight cage - and put Peanut in with her. They became friends immediately, and Peanut is now fully grown and eating seed on his own. The Cockatiel has been given him "come hither" looks and has started to nest...the silly girl....lololol
I ordinarily would NOT put a dove in with a hookbill, especially not a male hookbill, but our little female cockatiel is old and was a bit lonely since her old rescue companion Cockatiel passed away. They needed each other and it's worked out very well.
Baby mourning doves are very hardy, and not difficult at all to raise. But unfortunately, they DO take a lot of time and effort; and I have a LOT of rescue animals which I am taking care of - rescue dogs, rescue cats and rescue birds - besides raising Dachshunds. So I can no longer take in any more orphaned birds. I will be happy to show local folks how to do it, though.
I regret that I can no longer take in orphaned birds, including mourning dove babies. Look up wildlife rehabilitators on the net - there might be some very close to you who can take care of the baby.
However, it is not difficult for folks to do it themselves. I always have on hand the things needed for orphaned mourning dove babies because, as devoted as the parents are, doves are notoriously bad nest builders and their flimsy nests frequently come apart during high winds, or with any kind of disturbance.
The things I keep on hand are:
flexible tube feeding syringes (the kind used for finches). there are metal feeding tube syringes, but I've always used the flexible plastic tube syringes - available from ladygouldianfinch.com
small "hospital" cage
baby blankets for soft bedding in the cage
heat lamp with several heat bulbs
squab (baby dove) formula and older dove formula (remember tiny baby doves drink "crop milk" from both parents, and cannot digest any solids whatsoever!) foyspigeonsupplies.com has both the squab formula for the tiny babies and the Formula 3 powder (for older dove babies) I keep the bags of formula in the freezer where they will keep almost indefinitely, only taking out a cup or so when I have baby birds to feed. If you are unsure about how to crop feed - hit youtube and watch some videos of it being done.
Additional supplies might include shot glasses, vet wrap and elastic if you can persuade the baby dove to drink by himself.
Eventually the baby will have to learn to drink water and peck seed. REMEMBER that doves eat the whole seed - they do not hull seed the way hookbills (parakeets, cockatiels, lovebirds, etc) do - so they will also need a source of grit (you can read on the Dainty Diamond Dove website what kind of grit and seed I like to supply for birds).
A flight cage in order to exercise muscles and learn how to fly.
Then the horrible decision. Do I release the bird or keep it? Doves live a LONG time in the wild - but, unfortunately, not here in Ohio where they have the awful dove shoots and the life expectancy drops to 12 months or less. And, contrary to popular myth, not all rehab babies (or even adults) survive long in the wild....but that's another story.
IF you decide to keep the dove - he/she MUST have a large flight cage. And doves bond for life, so you'll need to find a tame ringneck partner (easily available in any pet store) - of the OPPOSITE sex. Feel the pelvic bones and learn how to determine if your dove is male or female, and get an appropriate partner. Remember male doves do NOT live together peacefully. And a dove must have a partner in order to be happy.
Remember also that, outside of swings, doves don't play with toys much, they enjoy eating, courting and nesting. Your couple likely WILL lay eggs (perhaps even fertile ones), so make sure that you replace these with wooden eggs, such as those found at dovepage.com (get the ringneck size for mourning doves).
Taking care of babies of any species usually depends mostly on keeping them fed, keeping them warm and keeping them clean.
A few tips:
Although one review called the book "sorely outdated" - it is one of my favorites for referring to feeding baby birds: Hand-feeding and Raising Baby Birds by Matthew M. Vriends. It can be purchased used for about $3 on Amazon.
Use ONLY bottled Spring Water (not tap water, not "bottled drinking water", not softened water) to make up the baby formula.
If the baby's eyes is closed, or it feels dehydrated or starved (check the prominence of the keel bone), keep the formula rather thin, so the baby can easily digest it.
In the mornings, if the baby's crop is empty, make the first feeding rather thin, so the baby will hydrate quickly, and then follow up in an hour or two with another feeding of normal consistency.
If the crop feels thickish or lumpy, make the feeding rather thin, and GENTLY massage the crop to try to break up the congested mass. If you can't, don't try to do it too roughly, just leave it.
Fill the crop until it feels spongy - not overfilling, which can lead to a "stretched crop" which has lost the muscle-tone to allow digestion.
The frequency of feeding depends on too many things for me to make a general statement. Starved, dehydrated and tiny babies need to be fed more frequently. And remember, baby doves drink - they don't eat - so the liquid is going to digest faster than solid food. Use your common sense and learn when and how often YOUR baby needs feeding.
Make sure the formula is lukewarm - NOT cool (babies cannot digest cool formula), and definitely NOT too warm - which can lead to crop burn, or even a crop rupture. (those are usually fatal, but some success has been had by using an artificial skin available at drug stores which are frequently used for human burns.
IF you use a microwave to warm the formula, warm only as much as will be consumed during that feeding. And use your finger to stir, stir, stir the formula - not only making it a smoother consistency, but to dissipate any "hot spots" in the formula which might burn the crop.
IF the baby is drinking by himself (as pictured on the Dainty Diamond Dove page - Feeding Baby Doves), be sure to clean off the remaining formula from the feathers, particularly beneath the chin and chest - it will harden to cement and then be impossible to remove.
Position the heat lamp to a CORNER of the small cage, so as to allow the baby to move closer or further away to maintain proper body warmth.
A baby bird cannot digest food if he is cold - he HAS to be kept warm in order to allow him to digest his food. After the baby has feathered out, he will need less outside warmth, but I still like to have it available until he is weaned.
The baby CANNOT go without formula for hours during the day. So if you work - either take the little one with you, or find someone else who can raise it.
Monitor the baby's weight and feather development to make sure he/she is thriving. KNOW how to check the keel bone to monitor healthy body mass.
Because of the extraordinary high protein of crop milk (or squab formula) baby doves feather out very quickly.....or rather, because they feather out so quickly they NEED a very high protein diet. Expect baby feathers to develop from the pin feathers in about a week. By 2 weeks, the baby should have baby feathers.
The easiest way for a baby dove to learn to peck seeds and drink water is to put him in a cage with another (preferably older female) dove for a few hours a day. If this is not possible, use your finger and tap the seed in a pecking motion to encourage him to peck on his own.
Baby doves are generally hardy and don't give up easily - even if they have been injured or starved. Although I've found antibiotics helpful for older birds, with little babies not so much; the babies either make it, or don't make it. Generally they make it - they just need a little help. :-) You can do it!