You may see pigeons every day, flying around and searching for scraps of food on the sidewalk in major cities. It is very rare that you see a pigeon’s nest or a pair of pigeons in that nest.
Yes, current evidence shows that pigeons do in fact mate for life. This means that one pair of pigeons will have children together in a monogamous relationship.
You may have seen a male pigeon puffing out his chest and strutting his stuff to impress a female pigeon. Evidence shows that once the female is wooed she will stay with the male for life.
What is the structure of a pigeon flock?
A pigeon flock consists of an equal number of male and female birds. This means that every bird has a mate, except of course the young fledglings.
Why Do They Mate For Life?
It is believed that pigeons mate for life for a few reasons.
Because pigeon eggs take roughly 18 days to hatch, the parents must watch the eggs for this whole time. Both male and female pigeons will sit on top of the eggs to keep them warm. However, the female will incubate them for longer, starting from morning to mid-afternoon.
While the other parent is incubating the eggs, one parent can hunt and forage for food. Because no pigeon can hunt and incubate the eggs at the same time, another one is needed. It is believed that pigeons evolved to mate for life for this reason.
Both male and female pigeons can secrete a food known as ‘pigeon milk’ to their young. The milk is actually a gooey substance that pigeons make in a gland in their throat especially for feeding their young. Although it looks like regurgitation it is in fact a different substance.
Similar to foraging, one parent will be able to defend the nest while the other incubates the eggs.
Because the eggs cannot get too cold or the chick inside dies, the eggs must be constantly kept warm. This makes it hard to defend the nest from other larger birds.
How Do They Decide Who To Mate With?
Pigeons actually go through a long ritual to decide their mate. The male will choose a female then begin the ceremony, puffing out his chest and doing a mating song and dance.
Once the female ‘agrees’ to the invitation, the male will pick up a stick and suggest where to build a nest.
The female will then stay put and wait as the male brings more and more sticks to build the nest.
Often just two eggs are laid, but up to six times per year. This is why pigeons are so abundant in cities. With lots of ledges for nests as well as widely available food.
Before the next eggs, the pigeons recreate the ceremony, actually adding to the nest.
You could even say that for each set of eggs, a new nest is built on top of the old one. Some undisturbed pigeon nests have been as large as 19inches wide.
What If One Dies?
If one of the pigeons dies, then the other will look for another mate. Although their ritual is very romantic from our perspective, pigeons will have no trouble selecting a new mate and getting straight back at it.
So, if you see a pigeon looking lonely, don’t worry too much.
When do pigeons look for new mates?
Pigeons look for new mates in only two cases. The first is if their partner dies or is grievously injured. The other is if for some reason the couple can not produce babies i.e. infertility.
Since procreation is an extremely important element of nesting and mating in pigeons, they will look for other partners to procreate with if they can’t have babies with their mate.
Pigeons generally mate for life. They have a single mate with which they build a nest and raise clutches.
However, in case of the death of one partner or the issue of infertility, pigeons do move on to find new mates to procreate with.