How to stop a pigeon from laying eggs
As a proud owner of a female pigeon there is one subject that crops up nearly every month, and that is the subject of egg laying. More specifically, how to stop a pigeon from continuous egg laying. As any person who owns a female pigeon will know, pigeons are prolific egg layers. They don’t need to be mated in order to lay eggs. They just need to feel it is the right time and that they have the right mate and nesting area (although the latter isn’t always the case – many of us have seen photos of pigeons who have laid an egg on the exposed floor!). The right mate can indeed be human. Many pigeons will bond with one human in the household and will court and try to start a family with that human. This behaviour may amuse us, but it is serious business for the pigeon. They want to have babies and will go through all the feelings, hormone changes, and behaviours associated with breeding and nesting. A lack of result, e.g. no babies, may be frustrating or even sorrowful for the pigeon.
So what should we do about this? Do we find a pigeon mate for the pigeon and let them breed? (This won’t solve the problem of chronic egg laying but may help the pigeon psychologically.) But what will happen to the babies? Considering the breeding efficiency of pigeons, you may soon be overrun with their offspring.
In general, feral pigeons can breed throughout the year, as long as there is enough food and shelter for them to do so. Some pigeons take a break during the winter months, some don’t. Feral pigeons will lay two eggs at a time. They incubate for about 18 days, then the squabs will be fed by both parents until they are ready to leave the nest when they are 30 days old. By this time the parents may have already produced another clutch of eggs (at around day 20), and the cycle continues.
So after considering a pigeons breeding efficiency your pet pigeon could be laying 24 eggs a year! (at least!) All this takes a lot of time and energy, and the female pigeon will need to be well fed and have access to calcium and vitamin D for egg production and laying (calcium is taken from the body to create the egg shell). Too many eggs without enough calcium will cause egg-binding or deformed eggs (see photo below for a smaller sized egg my pigeon once laid).
Chronic egg-laying can cause a number of serious health problems for birds, and can ultimately lead to the death of the female if left untreated.
“Chronic egg-laying in the pet bird poses a significant threat to the health and behavioral well being of many pet birds. When a hen lays repeated clutches or larger than normal clutch size without regard to the presence of a normal mate or confined breeding season, a myriad of secondary problems can follow. Ultimately, functional exhaustion of the reproductive tract poses risk of metabolic and physiological drain on the bird, particularly on calcium and energy stores. All of these ultimately predispose the hen to egg binding, dystocia, yolk coelomitis, oviductal impaction, oviductal torsion, cloacal prolapse and osteoporosis.” Ask an Expert: Chronic egg laying by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM
“Chronic egg laying will deplete calcium, thus causing myriad health problems. One of which is the condition known as hypocalcaemia – With calcium at a low level, the uterine muscles are unable to contract and push the egg out resulting in egg binding. Hypocalcaemia can also cause seizure-like activity and brittle bones, which can be easily fractured. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to prevent excessive egg laying. The first step in treating chronic egg laying is to put your bird on a complete diet. A bird that is on a balanced diet is in little danger of the health problems associated with chronic egg laying.” From: http://www.avianweb.com/egglaying.html
The following article has good advice about egg-binding:
“Calcium is used by the body to not only form the shell of the developing egg and maintain strong bones, but is also crucial in the proper functioning of the muscles. While it does take a large amount of calcium to form an egg shell, the hen also needs calcium for the muscle action needed to expel the egg.
“Vitamin d3 is crucial in the absorption of calcium. Without it, all that good calcium we offer our birds passes right through the body without being absorbed. In outdoor flights, our birds are able to produce d3 via a chemical reaction to sunlight. In indoor flights, they are unable to do this. Sunlight through a window is not sufficient. The ultraviolet light needed does not pass through window glass. Full spectrum lights can help but some studies have shown that the ultraviolet is only at sufficient levels at less than one foot from the light source. For inside birds, a d3 supplement is almost always helpful.” Egg Binding by Carol Heesen
In order to help reduce the strain egg development and laying causes the female pigeon, it is probably a good idea to discourage egg laying altogether. There are different thoughts on this and some methods may work for your pigeon, while for others it may not. It is up to you to ensure that your pigeon is healthy physically and mentally. Please read the following recommendations:
Seed availability in the wild is generally only high during breeding season, so an abundance of seeds in the diet is a stimulus to breed.
• Providing a good quality, balanced diet with restricted seed will not only help to reduce laying, but provide better nutrition to keep her healthy and better prepared to lay eggs and fight disease.
In the wild, birds generally breed in spring and summer, a time of increasing day length.
• By covering the loft or the windows in the evening at about 6pm, the hormones that stimulate laying will be reduced. As well as reducing mating/egg laying behavior, this will help to ensure a good night rest for your pigeons, which is very important.
Presence of a mate
Pigeons do not need to mate in order to lay eggs. They do usually need to think that they have a partner. A lot of the individual attention the pigeon fanciers will give to the pigeons can be interpreted by them as partner stimulation, and as such it needs to be minimized to the strict minimum.
• We recommend that you don’t cuddle or stroke your pigeons below the neck.
• Training basic obedience and trick training is a great way to interact with your pigeons in a healthier manner.
Pigeons are more likely to lay eggs if they have a nest. This may be a nest or box, newspaper or material at the bottom of a cage.
• Do NOT provide any nesting material for a pigeon if you don’t want her to lay.
Presence of eggs
• If your pigeons does lay eggs, leave them in the cage for the normal incubation period – approximately 3 weeks for most strain.
• The presence of eggs in a cage stimulates hormones in your bird which decreases the chances of more eggs.
More information on discouraging egg laying in birds: Egg laying in birds
1. Put your bird to bed early, by 5 or 6:00 p.m. A long day length is one of the most important environmental cues triggering egg laying in birds. By allowing your bird to stay up late, you are mimicking the long days of spring/summer, making your bird think it is time to breed. An early bedtime will help to turn off her breeding hormones. Note that she will need complete darkness and quiet for this to be effective (covering the cage while the radio or TV is on is not adequate!).
2. Keep your bird away from dark, enclosed spaces. Most parrots are cavity nesters, which means that instead of building a nest out in the open they look for dark, enclosed spaces in which to lay their eggs. In order to stop your bird from laying eggs it is essential that she is kept away from such areas. Nest boxes should be promptly removed. Birds can be ingenious when looking for a nesting site (under a couch, behind the microwave, even in the dryer!), so it is important that she is under close supervision when out of the cage.
3. Keep your bird away from other birds to which she is bonded. Having a mate is a strong stimulus for your bird to lay. This mate may be a member of the opposite sex, another female bird, or even a bird of a different species. Separating your bird from the other birds in your household will help turn off her hormones.
4. Discourage breeding behavior in your bird. Some birds will display breeding behaviors with their favorite person, such as vent-rubbing, tail lifting, or regurgitating food. Discourage these behaviors by putting your bird back in her cage for a “time out” whenever she displays them. Don’t pet your bird on her back or under her tail, as this can be sexually stimulating.
5. Remove your bird’s “love-toys”. Some single birds will display mating behaviors with objects in their environment, such as food cups, toys, perches, or mirrors. Mating behaviors include regurgitating food, vent rubbing, and tail lifting. If your bird engages in these behaviors with an inanimate object, that object should be permanently removed from her environment.
6. Rearrange the cage interior and change the cage location. Your bird is more likely to lay eggs in a cage that hasn’t changed in a while. Putting your bird in a different cage and/or changing the cage location can help discourage laying. Changing the arrangement or types of toys, dishes, and perches in the cage can also be very helpful.
7. Give your bird optimal nutrition and provide full spectrum light. Producing and laying eggs robs your bird of the vitamins, proteins, and calcium she needs to stay healthy. It is especially crucial during the breeding season that she is on a complete and balanced diet, which in most cases will be a pelleted diet. A seed diet supplemented with vitamins is not adequate. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a pelleted diet for your bird. Full spectrum sunlight is necessary for your bird’s calcium metabolism, and can be provided by unfiltered sunlight or by a full spectrum flourescent bulb.
8. Avoid removing the eggs which your bird has already laid. Sometimes the easiest way to turn off the egg-laying cycle is to allow your bird to sit on her eggs. If your bird lays a few eggs and then sits on them, leave the eggs in the cage for 21 days or until she loses interest. If however she does not stop at 3 – 4 eggs and continues laying, this strategy may not work, and you should call your avian veterinarian for further suggestions.
9. Ask your veterinarian about hormone injections. In certain cases of excessive egg-laying, your veterinarian may recommend hormone injections in addition to the above environmental and dietary changes. Hormone injections are relatively safe and can help reduce egg-laying in some birds. The effectiveness of hormone injections varies from bird to bird and can not be accurately predicted beforehand.
10. When in doubt, ask your avian veterinarian. If you have questions or concerns regarding your bird’s health, or if the above changes do not stop your bird from laying, please give your avian veterinarian a call.
Author: Hilary S. Stern, DVM