Do Pigeons Mate For Life?

Yes, Pigeons mate for life. Humans tend to ascribe our behaviors to the animal kingdom, including that pigeon’s mate for life. It is described as romantic but does the pigeon have the same feelings as we do?

While it is impossible to know precisely, many of their behaviors, such as cuddling, sharing food, and parenting responsibilities, show a level of concern for another that is similar to what people do.

And just like with people, if their partner dies, they will be slow to find a new partner but will often do it in time. It is almost like they mourn, but we must be careful about projecting our feelings onto these birds.

Why do pigeons mate for life? Is there an evolutionary reason, or is it just a quirk of the species?

Pigeon Mating Habits

Pigeons are highly social birds, living in large flocks. This makes finding eligible mates much easier as you don’t have to go on a search compared to solitary birds.

Pigeons reach mating age around six months. When looking for a mate, the male pigeon will find a single female and do a dance that involves head nods and tail shakes. 

If she is interested, she will nod back and come closer. Like humans, if the date is successful, they do a pigeon kiss by rubbing their beaks together. 

Unlike most humans, if they connect, they stay together for life. We generally take a little longer to make that decision.

pigeon mating habits

They build a nest in trees or on ledges. It is a rough mix of sticks, leaves, and feathers. They tend to add to the nest each time they lay eggs, so pigeon nests can expand like a home with multiple additions even though they don’t lay more eggs until the previous young have left the nest.

If this first date is a love match, they mate right away. Since the lifespan of wild pigeons is only around 3-4 years, they don’t have time to waste getting down to the business of building a family. 

After mating, the male flaps his wings in an exaggerated clapping motion as if he is congratulating himself. This is another thing it isn’t hard to picture a human male doing, only he might be high-fiving his buddies.

A pair of pigeons can produce up to 50 offspring per year, which can lead to a massive population explosion in the absence of natural predators. It is much more common for a breeding pair to produce 16-20 squabs per year due to the weather.

This is noted particularly in urban settings where animal control will often have to work to control the population, so massive flocks aren’t taking over parks and green space.

In the wild natural predators such as hawks and owls keep the population in check, but urban pigeons’ main predator is house cats. 

Raising Young

Pigeons lay one or two eggs each time they mate. The partnered pair take turns keeping the nest warm which allows the partner to head out and search for food. When the female is in the nest, the male will often bring food back for her and sit close as she tends their eggs.

pigeon raising young

After 18 days of incubation, the pigeon chicks or squabs hatch. When hatched, they are helpless, relying on their parents for warmth, feeding, and protection.

They are fed by their parent’s crop milk, a liquid produced in a pouch at the front of the bird’s neck. Both male and female pigeons produce crop milk. 

Because the parents can produce crop milk while eating any food, it opens them to breeding year-round as long as the temperatures aren’t too cold. Other birds have a limited breeding season due to food availability to feed their young.

After about five weeks, the squabs are ready to take flight and leave the nest. The male will teach them how to find food and other skills they need to survive independently.

The young pigeons will often stay as part of the parent’s flock.

Pigeons and People

Pigeons have been interacting with people for centuries. From being raised for food to acting as messengers, pigeons are one of the earliest birds to be domesticated. They have also been raised as pets.

In the wild, pigeons live less than five years, but in captivity, they can live up to 30 years, making them one of the longest-living pets.

Pigeons are quite intelligent, able to solve puzzles and recognize faces. This has made them very adaptable to urban environments. They also can memorize landmarks and directions to enable themselves to navigate over long distances.

This close contact with people has sometimes caused friction, with pigeons eating crops and causing a mess with their droppings. While they are considered a pest in cities, they are quite clean and aren’t linked to the spread of disease.

pigeons and people

Pigeons are also powerful flyers capable of covering long distances at high speed. Pigeon’s maximum speed is 150 km/h with a cruising speed of 75 km/h. They can cover hundreds of kilometers in a trip.

Homing pigeons were used to deliver messages before the telephone and telegraph. As early as 3000 B.C., the Egyptians used Homing pigeons to deliver messages. 

Pigeons can be released hundreds of kilometers from their home and find their way back to their nests. This has led to them being used for mail delivery and carrying messages during wars.

Boxer Mike Tyson is a lover of pigeons, with a flock of 74 that he tends. He has named and can identify each bird. Tyson fell in love with pigeons when he was nine and has raised them his whole life. 

Why Do Pigeons Mate For Life

From an evolutionary perspective, monogamy leads to more genetic diversity as each male and each female gets to pass on their genes. 

In non-monogamous animals, the strongest males mate with multiple females, while some males never get to mate. While this guarantees the strongest genes are passed on, it does limit the passing on of beneficial mutations.

Birds that are monogamous tend to have lower stress hormones. If you know you have someone to mate with, the stress of finding a partner is reduced. This can lead to better health outcomes.

pigeons mate for life

This is the same with humans, as married men live longer than single men. This can be for several reasons, but the end result is the same.

Since paired pigeons work together in finding food, raising young, and defending the nest, it increases the odds of their offspring surviving to adulthood.

If a partner dies, the pigeon will likely take another partner, which is often a slow process. It is like they have a mourning period and don’t pursue a new partner with the same vigor they did their original partner.

Do Pigeons Cheat?

pigeons cheat

While pigeons pair for life, they aren’t above mating with other birds when their partner isn’t around. This can be migration or off feeding.

If a male finds an unattached female, he may mate with her but won’t pair bond if he has a primary partner.

If female pigeons find an attractive male while away from their primary partner, they may mate, but it comes with a risk.

If the primary male feels the squabs aren’t his, he will tend to bring less food back to the nest, reducing the amount of crop milk available for the young.

What Other Birds Are Monogamous

While many birds mate with multiple partners per season or find a new partner each breeding season, several birds mate for life beyond the pigeon.


These broad-winged seabirds start to mate around eight years old. Once they do, they stay with the same partner for life. This is probably for the best, as there aren’t a lot of dating options in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Each year they renew their connection with a ritualized mating dance.

Bald Eagles

Nothing is more American than the majestic Bald Eagle. Like many Americans, the Bald Eagle mates for life, and like many weddings, their courtship display is over the top, with them cartwheeling through the air. They lock their talons and release them at the last moment to avoid hitting the ground.

Barn Owls

The Barn Owl, with its white facemask, looks like the killer from the Scream movies but is another one of the birds that take commitment seriously.

These nocturnal predators display courtship behavior that we would recognize, including bringing presents. Only in the case of the Barn Owl, the males will bring a dead mouse which probably wouldn’t work with most human women.

Black Vultures

The Black Vulture is proof you can find someone no matter what you look like. These birds mate for life and work together, raising their young. 

And it isn’t just mating season. The Black Vulture pair will spend almost all their time together year-round. Talk about compatibility, they don’t even have a mancave or yoga classes for some time apart.

Canadian Geese

While Canadians have a reputation for being friendly and polite, Canadian Geese are the exact opposite. Aggressive, loud, and generally not afraid of anything, the Canadian Geese are the terror of parks all over North America.

But even with their personality issues, they are monogamous and very attentive to their mates. 


The Swan is a symbol of love both in how they behave and how two Swans facing each other make a heart shape.

Like the other birds on our list, they mate for life and display mourning behavior if their partner dies.

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