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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.


This blog is called “Pigeons as Pets”. I just want to clarify what we mean by this.

We are not advising or advocating taking pigeons from the wild and keeping them as pets in an aviary or cage. Not at all! Healthy, flight-abled pigeons in the wild should be left to live their life naturally.

If, however, you find a baby pigeon that needs hand-rearing then of course this needs to be done (preferably by the experts) – with the aim that it can be released as a wild pigeon when it is ready. This is not always possible, as many of you know. Sometimes the baby is injured and cannot be released because of it; sometimes the baby becomes tame and bonded to humans and therefore unreleasable (especially if it has no predator avoidance instincts). In these cases the baby pigeon would need to be housed in a safe and suitable environment for the rest of its life. This also applies to adult pigeons that are disabled (e.g. blind or cannot fly).

  • Safe environment = safe from predators such as cats, dogs and sparrowhawks. Safe from the elements (e.g. severe weather).
  • Suitable environment = an area where the pigeon can fly (if it physically can), walk about, have suitable food and access to drinking and bathing water. Also, preferably, an area where it can have a mate. Pigeons are gregarious and require company.

Disabled adult pigeons may learn to tolerate your presence or they may become tame over time. Each pigeon is individual in its behaviour and character. The key is to understand what it needs and to not force anything.

  • Feral pigeons are one of the most common pigeons you’ll see and are perfectly capable of living in the wild in a variety of environments around the world. They can become very tame around humans if fed regularily.
  • Fancy pigeons are human bred pigeons and many would not know how to fend for themselves in the wild. Some have physical features that make them dependent on humans.
  • Racing pigeons are also human bred but if they become lost and hungry they usually find food in people’s gardens and may even join a feral pigeon flock instead of flying back home.
  • Wood pigeons are a completely wild species and adult woodies generally do not cope well in captivity (there are always exceptions). Hand-reared wood pigeons may remain tame and friendly.
  • Collared doves are also a completely wild species and are in many ways similar to woodies in their relationship with humans.

Since pigeons are largely monogamous, if a flight-abled pigeon bonds with a non-flighted one then it will stay with its mate despite its disability. Some people would be tempted to release the flight-abled pigeon, however, you would then be seperating two bonded pigeons, which I consider to be an unkind act. Most feral pigeons are happy as long as they have a mate, food, water, shelter, room to fly and a place to nest – whether this is in the wild or in captivity. This does not mean that you can justify taking pigeons from the wild – I stand by my belief that healthy, flighted pigeons should live in the wild in their natural state. What I am trying to say is that if you have nursed a flight-abled pigeon back to health but it has bonded with a disabled pigeon then you can keep the two together in a safe and suitable environment.

Then there is the question as to whether you should release a flighted tame pigeon. I think the answer to this is whether the tame pigeon knows enough about predators and has predator avoidance instincts. If it does not then it should not be released since it would be easy pickings. Some tame hand-reared pigeons have no predator awareness – some don’t even know what a predator is.

So what do we mean by “Pigeons as Pets”? We mean tame, imprinted or disabled pigeons that would not otherwise survive in the wild.