Do Pigeons Mate for Life? 7 Amazing Facts About These Loyal Birds

Wood pigeons, pair of birds mating ritual in a UK garden
© Paul Maguire/

Written by Ryan Fisher

Published: November 14, 2023

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Sometimes lovingly referred to as the “rats of the bird world,” pigeons are a super common avian species seen across the globe. Along with their widespread distribution, they also have a variety of unique behaviors, such as lifelong mating!

Their uniqueness doesn’t stop there though. Keep reading to learn more about their mating habits, as well as some other amazing facts about them! 

Do Pigeons Mate for Life? 

Pigeons are known to be monogamous, meaning they keep the same mates across multiple breeding years. After they find a mate, both males and females will stay with their partner until death do them part. If one partner passes away prematurely, the other may seek a new partner. 

In nature, monogamy is an interesting behavior to upkeep, as it can be limiting to the number of offspring you can produce, especially for young males who can have relations with multiple mates. 

For birds and other animals, monogamy is usually present when male participation is a requirement for raising young. In other words, if the process of successfully raising fledglings requires males to be present, they cannot be simultaneously mating with other females. It is also seen to be supported in environments where there aren’t enough resources to support the production of excessive offspring from multiple males. 

Thus, due to the heavy parental care in raising young pigeons, it is no wonder why pigeons mate for life!

Pigeon Mating Process 

A pair of Nicobar pigeon in nest (Caloenas nicobarica).

Some tropical pigeons are extremely ornate in comparison to North American pigeons! Regardless of the species, most pigeons will mate for life.


Pigeon mating often begins with the process of finding a mate. Males can have numerous mating displays that they use to attract a lifelong mate. These mating displays can take place both on the ground and in the air. Ground mating displays are primarily used to attract female pigeon’s attention. In contrast, aerial displays are generally used to mark territory boundaries. 

Male pigeons are also known to have behaviors called courtship feeding and mate guarding, which is where they actively seek out food to feed their partner and make an effort to prevent other males from mating with their partner. 

Around 12 days after successful mating, a female will lay 1-3 eggs. Both the male and the female incubate the eggs, which usually hatch somewhere between 16-18 days after laying

7 Amazing Facts About Pigeons

In addition to the fact that pigeons will mate for life, there is a lot more to learn about them! Take a look at some of these truly awesome pigeon facts.

Pigeons are Truly Adaptable 

As mentioned in the introduction, pigeons can be particularly devious pests, especially if you live in cities. They are almost perfectly suited to city life due to their adaptable nature, making them excellent urban animals. 

Pigeons generally look for nesting sites that are elevated, hidden, and somewhat protected from environmental factors such as wind. Many spots in cities are ideal nesting locations, such as eves, gutters, rooftops, windowsills, and more! 

In addition to this, pigeons are also very flexible with their diet. While they generally rely on grasses, seeds, grains, and fruits, pigeons have no issue with eating scraps of leftovers and garbage they find on the street. 

They Make Milk! 

Pigeons love. Two Pigeons in love in park

Pigeon milk isn’t truly a milk, as it doesn’t come from a specialized mammary gland.


Yes, you heard us right… pigeons make milk! In contrast to the idea of milk coming from mammary glands, pigeons and other birds can make milk from an organ called a crop. This milk is used to nourish their young and provide them with easily digestible nutrients when they are first born. 

The crop is an extension of the bird’s esophagus that usually allows them to quickly forage food to take elsewhere. Some birds can slough off the outer lining cells from their crop to create a milk-like substance. It is this substance which is called “pigeon milk,” and fed to their young! 

They Can Mate All Year Round

Another interesting fact about pigeons is that their mating schedule can be variable. Pigeon mating generally depends on two factors: food availability and photoperiod. With this, especially favorable years can allow pigeons to mate all year round, whereas colder, more unforgiving years may restrict the times that a pigeon pair can mate. 

Likewise, individual species may also have preferences in terms of their mating schedules, with some being more likely to mate all year, and others more likely to mate during the spring and summertime (when resources are abundant). 

Pigeons Pioneered Genetic Breeding! 

Pigeons surprisingly have played a crucial role in our current understanding of genetics and selective breeding. Charles Darwin himself worked with pigeons in his early days of studying selection. He noticed that breeders like himself were able to create certain traits within pigeons by selecting breeding individuals with unique and desirable characteristics. After this discovery, Darwin began to apply it to what he saw in nature, which soon led to his theory of natural selection! 

In addition to the advancement of genetics as we know it, this breeding also created a slew of different pigeon morphs (or varieties), each with their own unique set of traits. As individuals were let out into the wild or escaped, they began to breed into wild populations. It is this added variation that is thought to be the cause of the different pigeon morphs you see in the wild! 

You May Never See a Baby Pigeon

A squab, the baby animal name for a pigeon

Birds that are born too undeveloped to survive on their own are known as altricial.


Baby pigeons are truly a rare sight to see in the wild, which is in part due to the parental involvement associated with their upbringing. As mentioned earlier, this heavy parental care is one of the reasons why pigeon adults mate for life.

After they hatch, baby pigeons look rather unsightly, with bright pink skin, large protruding eyes, and often sparse feathers. 

It is during this period right after birth that which both parents give their baby absolute loving care. Until they can fly, both of their parents will provide them protection, warmth, and most importantly, food! 

The babies will only leave the nest when they are fully developed and ready to fend for themselves. It is due to this that people often don’t see baby pigeons. 

Pigeons Have Fleshy Noses

You may have noticed that most pigeons have a weird growth on their nose that appears to be fleshy. Some people even say that it looks like a chewed piece of gum. 

Most pigeons have a piece of tissue known as the operculum that surrounds the opening of each nostril. It is generally fleshy, and can even have vascular capabilities. There are a few hypotheses for why these developed in pigeons, although the most common is that pigeons possibly use them to:

  • Warm and condition air before it enters their respiratory system.
  • Filter out large dust and particulates from entering the respiratory system. 

Pigeon Use in War 

One last fun fact about pigeons is that they have historically been used to send messages, some of which were used to send messages during both World War I and World War II! 

To simplify their directional capabilities, pigeons can keep track of where their home is from across the world! Thus, throughout history people have brought pigeons with them, sending them to fly back home with notes. In fact, a specific type of pigeon known as a “carrier pigeon” was primarily used to send messages. 

With this in mind, almost every major country that participated in World War I and World War II reported to have used carrier pigeons for a variety of purposes, ranging from reconnaissance to message sending!

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About the Author

Ryan Fisher studies biology at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. His scientific interests are diverse, revolving around plants, animals, and fungi alike. In the future, he is planning on studying more botanical sciences, however he is extremely well-versed in select fields of zoology, such as entomology (the study of insects) and ornithology (the study of birds).

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