A Young Doveís Age Using Feather Molt of the Wings
John Pire

This article was written back in 1987, it is being rewritten so that interested breeders may calculate the age of young doves not close banded they obtain. It is based on the reading of books, articles on sport hunting of the native doves/pigeons in the US and personal data I did with birds in my personal collection.

The subject, which piqued my interest, was the studies experts have done on being able to determine the age of young doves taken in any given year. This data was derived from wild caught and captive raised birds under one year of age. I took the proven data and applied it to young birds in my collection.

The studies were done on "wing molts" of doves and pigeons in several different areas of the US. From these studies data emerged which showed a definite "molt pattern" that could be used to determine age of young birds Ė up until the time they molt their last "primary flight feather" on each wing.

One thing I noted while applying this to my young doves was; the first set of primary flight feathers of juvenile birds could be distinguished from the "adult" primary flights. The first set of primary flights of a juvenile have a light colored edging not found in the adult primary flights. See Comparison Picture

The chart used averages the length it took each primary feather to be completely molted in. This average is 13 days. In most cases you can date the young birds close to the date it was hatched by comparison with the table. Remember this chart can only be used or applied to birds under one year old. GO TO CHART

A little knowledge about molting: Doves & Pigeons go thru a complete feather molt once per year after attaining one year of age. It is generally believed the molt is a continuous process, involving a few feathers at a time; but mainly occurs May thru October. Any time bald spots appear rapidly during the molt may be a sign of something affecting the bird, such as lice or mites or an accident.

Beginning at about 30 to 40 days of age, the youngster begins the first full molt. Each of the feathers is completely replaced in about 10/15 days. Roughly in about 150/170 days or about 5 or 6 months a young dove will have completed its "post juvenile" molt. For all practical purposes, from then on the feathers are the same as those of an adult bird.

All doves and pigeons have 10 primary flight feathers on each wing. These feathers are counted from the middle (bend of the wing) outward to the farthest primary feather from the birdís body. Each numbered feather on one side corresponds with the same feather on the other wing. In the molting of the primary flight feathers each wing will molt the same "numbered feather" at the same time and in the same sequence.

To count the primary feathers and locate the #1 primary flight feather; hold one wing outstretched, begin at the innermost feather at the "first bend in the wing" and count outwards to the last primary flight feather. A very simple way to locate this 1st feather is to begin counting from the last or outermost primary flight feather and go in towards the body. The 10th counted feather, will then become the NUMBER 1 feather.

This does not mean you will not find two different primary flight feathers being molted at the same time on the same wing. For example: say that the #3 & the # 8 primary flights are being molted at the same time. The simultaneous molting of feathers that far apart would definitely be out of natural sequence. In all probability one or the other was lost due to an accident or injury.

An accident would not necessarily affect both wings, so the #3 primary flight might be molting on both sides & the #8 on one side. Since the accidentally lost feather is replaced at the normal speed, the next question to ask is: Would this feather (#8) be replaced when itís respective turn in the primary flight molt succession comes due in the current molt? Logic says it would not be re-molted, but this has never been studied and proven or dis-proven.

One interesting facet, which came to light from the studies is that you can tell which feather had just recently molted or which feather is next in succession. To determine this look at the primary flight feather covert feathers. These are the small feathers right above & cover the shaft of the primary flights. Each one of these primary coverts is molted prior to the corresponding primary flight feather being molted. Example: If the #5 primary flight is being molted look at the primary covert over the #6 primary flight Ė it should be molting also.

I applied the chart to many different species of doves and foreign pigeons I had in my bird collection. It calculated reasonably close to any young bird I applied it to. From my understanding most bird species replace their juvenile feathers at about the same length of time as the doves & pigeons. I am sure this chart could be applied to other species of birds, given the known time of juvenile to adult molt.

Articles                                                                FAQ