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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).

P1100176Left: normal sized pigeon egg. Right: deformed smaller pigeon egg

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

The solution

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:

All about reducing the laying of eggs by the racing pigeon

Diet

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.

Day Length

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.

Nesting Site

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.

(From: All about reducing the laying of eggs by the racing pigeon)

More information on discouraging egg laying in birds: Egg laying in birds

10 things you can do at home to stop your bird from laying eggs

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

From: http://www.forthebirdsdvm.com/pages/discouraging-breeding-behavior-in-pet-birds


Like any creature on the planet Elmo has days when he’s not ‘feeling it’, if I may use an expression of mine. Sure, we’re all entitled to feeling a bit blue and moody, but when Elmo is in such a mood it worries us since it’s harder to find out why he’s in such a mood. But this mood may only last a day and the next morning he’ll be his usual clownish, attention-seeking self. So we often don’t know the reason behind the behaviour change.

When Elmo is moody he won’t coo to us, nor react to our head-bobbing (a behaviour that often elicits head-bobbing in return, as well as a pigeon strut). He’ll peck our fingers – yes, even Richard’s! – and basically keep to himself – yet, he’ll remain in our company (never going off into a corner).

Now, since birds are notoriously good at hiding illness, such behaviour change can cause alarm. I am aware of this so I am always on the look out for any other signs of illness (e.g. changes in droppings, appetite, feather condition, etc.). Thankfully, I haven’t seen any other signs to worry me that Elmo would be ill – if he was he’d be whisked away to the vet in a heartbeat!

Over the weekend Elmo had one of his mood swings. Since Georgie is incubating her fake egg we thought maybe her broodiness was rubbing off onto Elmo. So Richard placed the other fake egg into Elmo’s nest and that evening Elmo sat on the egg and accepted our offerings of straw to cosy up the nest. The next morning, however, Elmo had rejected the egg and wasn’t interested in it anymore so we took it away. Shame, we thought he’d enjoy being broody again, but we were wrong. (For the story of Elmo’s broodiness, please read the following posts: Elmo is broody!!, Moody Broody Elmo, Broody day three and Eggless Elmo.)

Two years ago Elmo nested on the fake eggs and here’s a video of it:

After a day of Elmo ignoring us it was nice to have him showing some interest – which happened when Richard had his dinner of chicken and rice. Elmo went a bit mad with desire! He wanted some chicken and rice!!

Ok, maybe I should explain, Elmo isn’t a vegetarian. He likes to eat rice, but only if it is coated with some sort of meaty sauce. I kid you not. He’s special that way. :D

I’m a vegetarian so I find Elmo’s carnivorous/cannibilistic appetite a bit confusing. (Secretly, I think it might simply be the spicing, not the meat that Elmo likes.) The first time Elmo showed this interest we decided to take a video of it for proof:

Sadly, I didn’t take any video of Elmo’s recent meat cravings. I wish I had – his behaviour was hilarious! Elmo was staring at Richard’s plate with such an intensity that I had to warn Richard to move the plate before Elmo jumped onto it. Then Elmo watched Richard’s every move as he ate – begging with his eyes to join in. When he was allowed to peck at a few meaty grains of rice Elmo couldn’t believe his luck. You’ve gotta love him!!


I discovered a useful and insightful website by Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) about the genetic welfare problems of companion animals: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/geneticwelfareproblems.php

UFAW is a charity dedicated to promoting and developing improvements in the welfare of all animals, mainly through scientific and eductional activity.

The website is an information resource for prospective breeders and pet owners, and highlights which breeds of domestic animals have genetic welfare problems. Included in their list is a selection of fancy pigeon breeds: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/PIGEONS.php

The two main issues with fancy pigeons they write about is Abnormal Feathers and Rolling and Tumbling behaviour.

The website is worth a read to understand the problems these fancy pigeon breeds have and what are the welfare implications. You will find information on the clinical and pathological effects of the condition, the intensity and duration of welfare impact, number of animals affected, diagnosis, genetics, how to determine if an animal is a carrier, as well as methods and prospects for elimination of the problem.

Abnormal Feathers

Breed examples: Bokhara Trumpeter, Dresden Trumpeter, English Fantail, English Pouter, English Trumpeter, Ghent Cropper, Hungarian Giant House, Indian Fantail, Jacobin, Lahore Pigeon, Old Dutch Capuchine, Old German Cropper, Reversewing Pouter, Saxon Fairy Swallow, Tiger Swallow, Trumpeter

Condition: Abnormal Feathers

Related terms: feathered feet, hoods, fantails

Outline: Various breeds of pigeons have been selected for a range of plumage abnormalities: abnormalities of feather size, position and number. Examples include: a hood or mane of feathers covering the head and eyes, feathered legs and feet (“muffs” or “leggings”), and fantails. These variously compromise capacities for locomotion (walking, perching and flight), for mating and rearing young, for feeding and probably also for maintaining thermal comfort. The effects these have on the birds’ quality of life is difficult to assess but it seems likely that they are negative.” (From: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/ABNORMALFEATHERS.php)

The extreme feathering on some pigeon breeds interferes with their normal behaviour. Fantails, for example, have tail feathers that are held constantly fanned out which severely affect the aerodynamics of the pigeon, compromising their ability to fly and escape predators. Breeds with hoods or manes are often unable to raise their own young, which have to be fostered by pigeons with normal plumage. Long leg and feet feathers interfere with normal walking, perching and flying (by acting as aerial brakes during flight). Abnormal feathering can also become more easily soiled and lead to disease and parasites if the pigeon is unable to keep its feathers clean.

The below photo is of a rescued Indian Fantail who has broken tail feathers from improper housing. He was rehomed but has difficulty preening and often his tail and leg feathers have to be washed by hand to keep them clean.

P1020948

Indian Fantail

The below photo is of a fancy pigeon with extra long leg feathers which restrict his movement and perching abilities, as well as being easily soiled. Another problem with such feathering is the danger of them becoming damaged or broken, which can lead to bleeding if a blood feather is broken.

P1010037

Notice the long white feathers on this pigeon's feet.

.

Rolling and Tumbling

Breed: Roller and Tumbler Pigeons – For example: Armenian Tumbler, Australian Performing Tumbler, Berlin Short-Faced Tumbler, English Long-Faced Tumbler, English Short-Faced Tumbler, Iranian Highflying Tumbler, Komorner Tumbler, Parlor Roller, Parlor Tumbler, Syrian Coop Tumbler, West of England Tumbler

Condition: Rolling and tumbling

Related terms: backward somersaulting, rolldowns

Outline: The roller and tumbler breeds of pigeon have been selected for tumbling behaviour in flight, to the extent that some tumblers can no longer fly but, instead, tumble as soon as they intend to take wing. (This abnormal behaviour is exploited in competitions in which owners of these pigeons compete to find whose bird covers the most ground by tumbling over it.) The consequences to the birds are difficult to assess but are clearly adverse when they lead to injuries due to hitting the ground or tumbling over it.” (From: http://www.ufaw.org.uk/ROLLINGTUMBLINGPIGEONS.php)

 

More videos of this behaviour and activity: Video Friday: Rollers and Tumblers

Besides the obvious welfare issues of injuries caused by tumbling and rolling behaviour (e.g. from collisions with the ground or objects), it is also disturbing their natural desire to fly normally, especially as a flight response to danger, thus possibly being a cause for fear-related stress and distress.

Below is a photo of Turk, who we believe to be a tumbler pigeon, possibly a Turkish Takla. I have witnessed him do backflips in the air when he tries to fly down from a perch to the ground in the aviary where he lives. Each time his behaviour indicates that the backflips are not voluntary and seem to inconvenience him. He always hesitates each time he wants to fly down. An indication of a lack of desire to fly because of how the backflips make him feel? This may be my subjective point of view but as pointed out on the website, it may be a source of frustration if the pigeon is unable to control the tumbling behaviour.

Turk

Turk, the Turkish Takla pigeon


I’ve known for a while now that Georgie had eggs on the mind. All the usual symptoms were there: looking for a nest as well as excessive courting and mating behaviour. Anything could set her off. Usually just hearing my voice would get Georgie in the mood, but when she’s decided she’s going to lay eggs, well, even Richard’s voice would do! LOL!

I foolishly thought that if I didn’t give Georgie a nest then she wouldn’t lay any eggs. How naive of me!

Last night George jumped down from her usual spot on the sofa onto Elmo’s nest. She knows that he has a nest there and usually doesn’t try to go there because Elmo would of course attack her, but last night she was obviously desperate. I didn’t read her behaviour correctly and thought she was trying to get to the peanut jar so I popped her into her cage so that she could eat. After a minute or so I looked back to see what Georgie was doing and saw that she was about to lay an egg while standing on edge of her cage! OMG!

I quickly picked Georgie up and placed her on the pink fleece (that she loves so much) and watched her lay her egg. It’s actually quite painful to watch because of the size of the egg compaired to the cloaca (vent). I do feel for Georgie. Poor girl. At one point she got the egg out half way but then stopped for a second to regroup her energy and then she gave one last push and the egg came out. Phew!

Once the egg was laid though, Georgie ran away as if not interested. Fair enough. I hadn’t given her a chance to really bond to a nesting place so she disconnected her thoughts from the egg pretty quickly. Her eggs are of course infertile so there’s no problem with her not incubating them.

P1050696

Georgie walks away from her freshly laid egg

I do feel a bit guilty for not having given her a nest but I just didn’t want her health to be compromised as it did the last time she laid an egg.

Today Georgie is no different than the last few days. She’s quite chunky in weight (hooray!) and she’s sitting comfortably on my lap. We’re expecting her to lay the second egg tomorrow and we’ll try to capture the moment on video. In the meantime, here’s a video of Georgie laying an egg a year ago:


It’s been a very good weekend for us here with Georgie back to good health. She’s been snuggling up to me a lot and stealing food from my plate whenever she’s had the chance. She managed to run away with a piece of my tortilla yesterday, dragging cheese, corn, lettuce, tomatoes and salsa across the sofa. Lovely.

Elmo has been his usual wonderful self, cooing and twitching and loving. He loves shredded cabbage and lettuce so I’ve been dropping pieces on the kitchen floor whenever he’s in there keeping me company. He likes to keep an eye on things. And he loves his mineral pick-pot! The kitchen floor is covered with the pieces he’s been throwing about. He has very messy eating habits.

There are so many wonderful quirks of Elmo’s that I want to record. I think I need to hire a film crew to follow him about all day so they can capture his funny behaviours. A documentary about Elmo and Georgie would be a good idea.

Another project for me, I guess. :)