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I often get asked what many might view as a simple question:

“How can you tell if a pigeon is male or female?”

Telling the sex of a pigeon is actually quite difficult. Even with years of experience people can still get it wrong. However, there are two methods that give good results.

One is to have the bird DNA sexed (from blood, feathers or the eggshell), which I believe is a safer and less intrusive option than surgical sexing. For more about DNA sexing please visit these websites: http://www.avianbiotech.co.uk/dna_sex_testing.asp and http://www.dnasexing.com/index.html

The other method is even less intrusive: Simply wait to see if your pigeon lays an egg! :D

I’ve had a look through the few books I have about pigeons and found this about sexing fancy pigeons (not ferals):

“Sexing young birds with any certainty is 50-50 at best. … Older birds of some breeds can be more reliably sexed, once you gain a little experience. In most breeds, the male’s head is fairly round, but the top of the hen’s skull will typically have a flattened area. In some birds this can be quite pronounced, but again, this is not true in all breeds. The only surefire way to tell a bird’s sex is obvious – the one that lays the egg is the hen, for sure!” (Vriends and Erskine, 2005, page 11 and 14)

“With pigeons the difference between males (cocks) and females (hens) is difficult to see. Sometimes the cocks are a little bit rougher around the edges and a little heavier. The head also offers some clues when trying to determine the gender. This however does depend on breed. The real difference can only be determined through their behaviour. A cock only shows that he is a male when he becomes an adult.” (Rijs, 2006, page 48)

Many people will tell you their method of sexing pigeons is the way to go, such as checking the shape of the head, tipping the bird onto its back (please check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I4iU4KTJRo), checking the length of the toes, etc., however, I believe that there is no real science behind those methods and you may get an incorrect answer. This is obviously bad if you’re trying to buy a mate for your single pigeon.

Generally speaking male pigeons behave differently than females. When they become sexually mature they’ll start to look for a mate. Hinsaw Patent (1997, page 39-38) has this to say about feral pigeons in the city: “Almost any time a flock of pigeons walks about on the sidewalk pecking up bits of food, at least one male bird will be trying to impress a female. He puffs out his neck feathers so they gleam in the sunlight, and he coos softly as he struts about. The females are just as likely to ignore him as to pay attention.” Sound familiar? :)

Males will do their strutting dance to females, so if you see the dance, it’s usually a male pigeon. For illustrations and videos of the courtship dance, please visit: Pigeon courtship – romance is alive!

However, just to confuse you, I have found that tame/imprinted female pigeons will behave like males towards humans. So you may think you have a tame male pigeon who is cooing to you and dancing about, but in fact it may be a female pigeon who’s trying to get your attention. And since you’re obviously not giving her the right pigeon mate signals, she’s taking on the male role to ensure the relationship is going ahead.

If you have a tame pet pigeon who thinks you’re his or her mate, they will soon want to mate with you and, if they’re female, lay eggs. From my experience with tame pigeons, if the pigeon mates with your hand or an object (by rubbing its vent against you or the desired object) then the pigeon is male. If, when you pat its back, the pigeon crouches down and presents its vent to you (flattening its back and moving its feathers away from the vent) then you have a female pigeon.

Example of female presenting (0:08 and 0:34):

Example of male mating (Elmo isn’t too good with his balance so he cannot actually rub his vent against us – which is good for us!):

And of two pigeons mating (0:29):

Did you notice the male pigeon crouch down (0:42) when the female was walking towards him as if he was presenting himself? Interesting behaviour from a male.

The topic of sexing pigeons is discussed at length in this forum: http://www.pigeons.biz/forums/f5/can-you-tell-male-from-female-5146.html

And the wonderful people at Pigeon Angels suggest presenting a mirror to the pigeon to see if they coo and dance to it (male) or if they ignore the mirror (female): http://www.pigeonangels.com/t2254-how-do-i-tell-the-sex-of-my-pigeons

I’ve not tried the mirror method with my pet pigeon, Georgie, because she cannot see properly anyway – and we know she’s female already because she lays eggs. Elmo ignores the mirror but we know he’s male, so you can take what you want from all of the sexing methods. If in doubt, DNA sexing is your best bet! :)

I love what this man has written about the subject – point three is excellent! – but I don’t suggest the first method at all:

Pigeons, Sex and Investing

Posted by Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten on Apr 15, 2007

It is very difficult to determine the sex of a pigeon. There are three ways to do it:

1 – Check their reproductive organs

Not the outer ones but the inner ones. Pigeons genitalia all look alike so you will have to cut them open to actually see what you want to see.

2 – See who goes on top

There isn’t much variation in the sex life of a pigeon. Males go on top. No Kama Sutra here. Fortunately all they do is eat and, well you know, so you won’t have to wait very long to see that happen. But you do need 2 pigeons and some patience.

3 – look at their faces

Yes, pigeons have faces just like humans.

Pigeons hugging

It takes years to be able to read the face of a pigeon. I kept up to 30 pigeons as a kid so I can tell the sex of any pigeon just by looking at it for 2 seconds. Just like with most humans. Humans have the added benefit of clothing, hair and breasts (or not) but even without that a face looks feminine or masculine.

I thought about that as I was watching the Dutch version of Dragons Den. The investors try to look under all those feathers but up close all excel sheets look the same. They try to see who goes on top but then you would have to wait until the entrepreneur meets an actual client.

But once you have met enough starting entrepreneurs one look at someones face is usually enough. You know what you have got and who is a good bet and who isn’t.

Just like with pigeons.

From: http://bomega.com/2007/04/15/pigeons-sex-and-investing/

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REFERENCES:

  • Vriends, M.M. and Erskine, T.E. (2005) Pigeons. A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual. Hauppauge: Barron’s
  • Rijs, A. (2006) Fancy Pigeons. Prague: Rebo Publishers
  • Hinshaw Patent, D. (1997) Pigeons. New York: Clarion Books

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.


Must be one of the best pigeon dance videos out there. I love the pigeon at the end – he’s very excited and trying very hard to get her attention!


Sometimes pigeons see an object that they quite fancy and they proceed to court it. Here’s a few pigeons that love something other than a pigeon:

And of course, our video of Elmo and his object of desire:


P1010380

27th February 2010

A while back a mummy pigeon and her two babies were brought into my workplace because the pigeon pair had nested on the ground in a hospital courtyard where it was due to have renovations done. The mummy pigeon has a broken wing and cannot even hop off the ground, which is why they had nested on the ground. The hospital staff had been kind enough to feed her and shelter her from any harm, however, they needed to relocate them because of the renovations. They had tried to catch the whole family but the daddy pigeon flew away and they never caught him.

P1010463

10th March 2010

Actually, the hospital staff thought the mummy pigeon was the daddy! I didn’t ask them why they thought this (silly me!) and so for a few weeks we called the mummy pigeon a daddy until we later found out that she was female. We found this out simply by the behaviour of other pigeons in an adjacent aviary. All the male pigeons took one look at the big, healthy and pretty mummy pigeon and begun their courtship campaign! If the wire hadn’t been between them she would have been worn out by their advances.

The babies grew and grew under mummy’s loving care at the rescue centre and they are due to be released once they are big and strong.

Here’s a video of mummy feeding one of her babies:

The mummy pigeon had to be rehomed because of her broken wing. I knew of someone who was looking for female pigeons to pair up with her male pigeons and so on the 27th March we took mummy pigeon (and another female pigeon that needed rehoming) to her aviary and got her settled into her new home (see Minnie’s new home).

This Saturday we will be visiting the aviary and we’ll be taking plenty of photos and will have an update for you on the mummy pigeon (as well as Minnie).

P1010761

27th March 2010 - Taking her to her new home!