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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


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.


Georgie hasn’t laid an egg since the beginning of April. That’s about 6 months egg free!! Incredible!!!

A year ago I started recording when she lays eggs, and since April 2009 she’s laid 11 clutches (2 eggs per clutch, therefore, she’s laid 22 eggs in a year). For some reason Georgie has decided to stop laying eggs, however, her mating behaviour has stayed the same. She still presents herself for mating and does her “I got lucky!” dance afterwards (see video: Bonded Georgie), however, she hasn’t laid an egg in 6 months – which is a big surprise for us. I’m not sure what’s going on.

In a way I am very happy – because I always worry when she starts laying eggs (takes a lot of energy and calcium, etc.) and Georgie also gets very moody and a bit difficult when she’s sitting on eggs. However, I’m also a bit bemused as to why she’s not laying any eggs now. I guess I should count myself lucky that she’s giving her body a break! :)

Continuous egg laying can be a real problem for bird owners since the health of the female bird can deteriorate over time as the demands of producing and laying eggs takes their toll. The danger of egg-binding (the inability to pass an egg that has formed) also becomes more prominent. Egg-binding is a life-threatening condition and the vet should immediately be consulted! (Read more on egg-binding: Eggbound symptoms)

I know I’ve mentioned in previous posts that Georgie was eggbound last year (Georgie eggbound), however, it is something that scared us a lot and not an experience we’d want to repeat. So I will take Georgie’s lack of eggs as a good sign and not encourage her too much in her mating behaviour. … Now that I’ve said this I bet she’ll lay eggs this month. :)


Georgie girl is bonded to me and she gets hormonal and broody often. If she’s in one of those moods and I pat her back she thinks she’s getting lucky and dances about in appreciation. Silly girl!

Here she is in mating mode:


A few videos of pigeons in love. I really like the first video. The woodies are adorable!


-12°C means little to this little guy :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e0mvHXKg2bI

We are of the opinion that Elmo doesn’t consider himself pigeon, but rather as a human. One very confused pigeon we thought.

However, is this entirely true? My recent post on Pij-n-Angels website has made me think that perhaps, us pigeon owners are in fact being turned into pigeons by our beloved pets. Take these rather crazy behavious as examples:

  1. I preen my pigeon. I use my nose as a beak and will run it around his neck, and occasionally tug a few feathers using my lips.
  2. My pigeon feeds me, my little finger being a ‘beak’ he forces down his own throat.
  3. We nest together: On the sofa he will sit near me, or in his nest cooing away trying to get my attention. When we go to sleep we nest together (his bed is my bedside table no more than 4 feet away from my face).
  4. I’ll coo to him, using various tones which any pigeon owner will be able to recognise as aggressive, loving, excited or confused.
  5. I bow my head to get his attention as he does to me.
  6. I’ll allow him to mate with my hand.

So, it would seem I have a very healthy PIGEON relationship.

One worring and very embarrasing pigeon behavour I do is bow my head at people IN PUBLIC. If I find something cute I find myself bowing my head like a pigeon…

I struggle to think of human behavious my pigeon has picked up. So, is he really more human than pigeon, or am I just a little bit more pigeon than I used to be…?


Elmo is an imprinted pigeon and thinks I am his mate. Here he’s trying to mate with me: