Hand-raising Pigeons and Doves By Josie Pyle Softbill Dove and Quail Branch

Hand-raising pigeon and dove chicks (squabs) requires:

warmth and humidity

appropriate food

Warmth and Humidity

Squabs are altricial, i.e. blind, and helpless when hatched and, although covered in a fine down, are totally dependant on their parents for temperature and hydration maintenance. Brooders must therefore provide both warmth and humidity, the latter provided by placing water close to the heat source. Suitable brooders for rearing a chick from day 1 include

box/aquarium with light globe (or ceramic globe) and a bowl of water

pet heater pad with water source

commercial brooder or converted incubator

Temperature control is most important for very young chicks as they digest and absorb food better at a slightly higher temperature (35 to 36 C) than older chicks. If the chick chills, the crop may empty slowly and the food in the crop become spoiled, leading to fungal or bacterial infections.

To encourage feather growth, the temperature of the brooder should be reduced as the chick grows; from the 35 to 36 C mentioned above to 25 to 28 C by 3 weeks of age. The temperature of the box/aquarium brooder can be reduced by moving the chick further from the light source. whatever the brooder, a thermometer should be used to check the temperature frequently. As the chick becomes mobile, it will find it’s own comfortable temperature.


Artificial Pigeon Beak

A squab will feed by putting its beak into the beak/mouth of its parent and drinking food regurgitated from the adults crop. This situation can be reproduced easily through the use of a modified syringe. The end of the syringe is cut off at the junction with the barrel, leaving a small rim. The hole and barrel should be large enough for the chick’s beak to fit inside and open thus allowing the chick to drink. If the hole is too small, the chick may develop a sore on the top of its beak. The size of the syringe used will therefore depend on the species and age of the chick. Eye droppers and pipette bulbs are suitable alternatives to a syringe.

Growth Stages

These depends a lot on the species involved but can generally be divided into 4 stages. The number of days given for each stage applies to a chick from a species which takes 30 days to fledge. The percentage figure given can be used to work out the duration of each stage for species with longer (or shorter) fledging times.
Stage 1 Newly hatched From hatching until 4 days of age. This equates to approximately 14% of the time from hatching to fledging.
Stage 2 Early Growth From day 5 to 7. (11%)
Stage 3 Late Growth From day 8 to 14. (20%)
Stage 4 Fledging From day 15 until weaned. (55%)

Feeding Regimes

Depends on the species, formulas available and amount of time you are prepared to spend on preparing food. For the first 3 growth stages described above, the formula must mimic “pigeons milk” which is a specialized product of the thickened crop lining of the parent. Compared with the chicks later food it is higher in protein, fat and water but carbohydrates are almost absent. The formula should become progressively thicker towards the end of stage 3.

Danny Brown’s book “A Guide to Pigeons, Doves & Quail” provides a range of recipes for different species for aviculturists who like to make their own formula but I find that using a pre-prepared formula powder is easier. The following information is for Rowdybush™ Squab Hand-feeding Formula.

Growth Stage


% Water

% Formula

Feedings per day





5 – 6












Formula 3




You will notice that in Stage 4 the formula used is “Formula 3” which is the formula for raising graniverous species such as parrots, fiches etc. This should be fed 3 to 4 times daily initially, reducing to once daily as the chick approaches weaning age. Adult food should be offered early to encourage acceptance.

Important Points

Mix formula with warm water and feed as soon as possible (at about 40 C)

Never feed leftovers, mix fresh formula each feed.

Spread feeds evenly over the day and fill crop at each feeding.

Measure formula and water accurately – by weight and not volume. e.g. 86g water 14g formula. Inaccurate measurement can lead to uneven growth.

Store formula in a cool dry place. Freezing the dry powder maximizes shelf life (to approx. 12 months).

Fruit Eating Doves

Can be raised with the above regime with the following modifications:

during Stage 4 stewed or pureed apple/pear is used instead of water.

during weaning the fruit is mixed with the formula to a putty like consistency, rolled into balls and fed. Later, fruit pieces can replace the fruit/formula mix.


Brown D., A Guide to Pigeons, Doves & Quail. Australian BirdKeeper, South Tweed Heads. 1995.

Roudybush Australia. PO Box 831, Newcastle, NSW 2300.