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Many of us will have seen the delightful performance of a male pigeon courting a female. It’s one of those beautiful things that happens all around us and we often hear the cooing of a male pigeon in his courtship if we cannot see the display.

Many people find the performance comical to watch. Usually the female is busy eating or minding her own business when a male comes over to her and starts fanning his tail and dancing around her. It can seem very pushy and desperate – especially when the female ignores him.

Pigeons are monogamous and pair for life, and when one of the partners dies or goes missing, the other will eventually search for a new mate. Pigeons are dedicated parents and therefore have a strong bond with one another. Amongst paired pigeons, the courtship display is performed to reaffirm and reinforce the bond between them.

The following shows the repertoire of their courtship:

Pigeon courtship behaviours

BOWING: a male puffs out his neck feathers, lowers his head, and turns around in circles.

TAIL-DRAGGING: a male spreads his tail and drags it while running after a female.

DRIVING: a male pigeon runs closely behind a female to move her away from other males.

BILLING: a female puts her beak inside the male's beak.

MATING: a male stands on top of a female and flaps his wings to keep his balance.

CLAPPING: after mating, a male pigeon may make a display flight. In this display, he "claps" his wings twice.

All the above illustrations are by Julie Zickefoose and can be found at: Bird Watchers’ Notebook: Pigeon Courtship and Pigeon Courtship.

One behaviour not illustrated is when billing both the male and female will briefly preen some feathers on their back or wing before returning to more billing. I don’t know why they do this, it’s just part of their courtship ritual. In already paired pigeons, a lot of mutual head preening will also occur before billing and mating.