Why “Dove Releases” Are Cruel

Warning: Includes graphic photos showing what happens to “released doves”.

When you hear about a “dove release” or “wedding doves”, it usually means that Homing Pigeons, selectively bred to be all white, small and dove-like, were rented so as to be ceremoniously released. (They don’t call them “wedding pigeons” for some reason…)

Most will survive the flight home.

White Homing Pigeons released at a wedding

Homing pigeons released as “wedding doves”. Photo by Jim Kennedy

But the reality is very different from the fantasy.

The “dove release” business perpetuates the idea that white birds can be “set free” and they will just fly away and live happily ever after. Even under the best of circumstances, trained “wedding doves” are hurt, lost and killed trying to get home. It’s even worse when do-it-yourselfers mistakenly buy white Ringneck Doves and King Pigeons to release. Nearly all of them will die.

Honor SFACC A370888 062515 IMG_7884

“Wedding dove” lucky to be rescued & taken to a shelter

Please help counteract this fantasy with the reality. We have to speak up for the birds because no one is listening to them. We strongly recommend against using these gentle, loyal birds in this uncaring way.

A nice employee at Evergreen Cemetery called to tell me that managed he to save six of a flock of white doves “released” at a funeral. The mourners had to pull them out of the cage and throw them in the air but even so, only a few flew anywhere (they knew they weren’t safe). One was hawk-struck, another run over… others flew away (but they won’t survive).We all know people who will be having weddings, funerals, graduations and other ceremonies and rituals… Please help educate people to how cruel and unfair this is to the birds.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.48.26 PM

Photo by Carol Fletcher taken at Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary

Never buy and release birds for weddings, funerals, prayers, blessings, as a “kind act” or other ceremonies. White doves and other birds (like King Pigeons) sold to you have no survival skills and will suffer and die, bringing neither joy nor honor to any occasion. Releasing store-bought birds is both cruel and illegal.


Four-week old King Pigeons rescued after their “release” at a funeral

And even when done “properly”,  by hiring a professional to release trained white Homing Pigeons, casualties are still common.  Note: We recommend against all releases of domestic birds. We have rescued plenty of lost and/or injured white Homing Pigeons too.

See the heartbreaking story of Pope Francis’ 2014 “release” in the Ukraine here.
Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.53.02 PM

This custom needs to end

This custom needs to end

Predators recognize what we do not

Predators recognize what we do not

Domestic Homing Pigeons are easy prey

Domestic Homing Pigeons are easy prey

Domestic birds should never be "released"

Domestic birds should never be “released”

This happens to a lot of the “doves” (Homing Pigeons) released by Popes and others. Here’s a “symbolic appeal for peace” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI

Wild vs. Domestic is not "nature"

Wild vs. Domestic is not “nature”

The odds of survival for true doves (white Ringneck Doves) & King Pigeons are much worse. Whether they are being used for a ceremony or misguidedly “set free”, most of them don’t survive long enough to be rescued. When unprotected, their life span, whether in the city, a park or the wild, is hours to days. These King Pigeons youngsters (sold as squab at a live poultry market and “set free” in Golden Gate Park, beat the terrible odds and were rescued. (One of them, Duke, is still available for adoption along with his mate Nieve.)

Baby King Pigeons "released"

Baby King Pigeons “released”

Domestic King Pigeons have no survival skills

Domestic King Pigeons have no survival skills

Rescuer and Good Samaritan with rescued baby King Pigoen

These were very lucky to be rescued

And even if they lucky enough to be rescued, they are still at risk. Many are weak, sick, traumatized, injured as well as at risk of being killed in overfull shelters. After watching yet another one of these innocent victims die, I posted this on Craigslist:

It says, To the well-intended but misguided people who buy baby King Pigeons (squab) from live poultry markets and “set them free”- don’t! You are just killing them in another (and not very merciful) way. These baby birds have no survival skills and, even if they were to live to adulthood, they still won’t. They are DOMESTIC. They are preyed upon by hawks, gulls, ravens, dogs, cats, raccoons, mean people and hit by cars if they don’t starve or die from disease. (If you eat squab- beware. The majority of the baby king pigeons- squab- that live long enough to make it to an animal shelter are sick- from Trichomoniasis, PMV, chlamydophilia and more.)

I was contacted by the shelter again today to try and save one of these poor, sweet creatures but she died within the hour. She was 5 weeks old. If you want to help King Pigeons, do something meaningful. Volunteer at the shelter. Protest live animal sales. Donate. Adopt some and provide them with the decent life they deserve. But please please please don’t buy them and “set them free” in the parks thinking you have helped them. You haven’t. You have put them in an even worse predicament than they already were (as bad as that was).

Here’s a picture of today’s victim (found in MacLaren Park a week ago and kept until her inability to breathe got her finder to take her to the animal shelter). Despite our best efforts, she was too sick to be saved. And here are pictures of what happens to many of the others “set free”.


“Released” domestic birds have no survival skills. They are killed by hawks, ravens, gulls, dogs, cats, raccoons, mean people and cars.


King Pigeons “released” at Our lady of Peace Church


King Pigeon we spent hours trying but failed to rescue

Despite all the many birds we rescue, this is the fate of many that get “released”.


Domestic birds are killed by all kinds of predators


Common fate for a “released” King Pigeon

Dying in Dozens:  Fancy Pigeons “Released” Dying in Park 8/22/14

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 12.42.14 PM

Never “set free” domestic birds!


From Never Buy & Release Birds, originally published May 23, 2012 at RescueReport.org
Please share with your friends, family and colleagues. This happens a lot!


  1. we have a white pigeon/dove in our yard. He appeared 6 days ago . We are concerned for it and don’t know what to do. Any suggestions? Thank you for your time.

    • Hi, Faye- Thank you for your compassion & pardon the delayed reply. We cannot keep up with all the requests for assistance. I hope that you were able to find help for this bird. White pigeons and doves are domestic and have no survival skills. The bird needs to be rescued. See the Resources & FAQs tabs for more info about how. Good luck to you both.

  2. Regarding comments about white dove release services. I recently started a service in UK. I can truely tell you I have never lost any birds I have released. My birds are all homing birds with excellent homing instincts and we’ll trained and allowed exercise daily. The images you portrayed were nothing but brutal and barbariac. I find it awfull to see any bird or animals that have suffered and would of liked your page if it wasn’t for the horrible way you have portrayed me and my fellow dove release professionals. Who I must say seem nothing but loving caring owners. Please consider removing the remarks many thanks Ian Curry a conscientious loving keeper of white doves (Pigeons)

    • Dear Ian & “Dove” Releasers,

      It is good that you take care of your birds. You should! You are responsible for them. They depend on you for their care.

      And I’m glad to hear that YOUR birds have been making it home safely. I can assure you- not all do.

      Regarding your business (or hobby) of “dove release”, I am against it & Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions is against it. We are against breeding and we are against the use of pigeons and doves- whether for meat, racing, training dogs & falcons, lab testing, “dove releases”, magic shows, etc. I stand by my article. We have saved the lives of quite a few lost white homers but far more die alone, never getting help.

      I created a rescue not because I wanted to- I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to face the heartbreak, but because no one else was helping all the domestic pigeons and doves coming in to the shelters from all sorts of breeders and hobbyists- including lost white homers from “dove releases” and many other white birds (King Pigeons & Ringneck Doves) that were “released” for ceremonies or “set free” by misguided people who thought they would be OK. But they aren’t- most are killed in the wild and never even make it to the shelters.

      Your practice of releasing “white doves”, however well intended, is exploitive and perpetuates the notion that white birds can be released. (We hear it constantly in our outreach & education from the general public.)

      We are a group of people who help the birds that others like yourselves breed and use. I hope that, unlike so many others, your birds never need a rescue but, if they do, I hope they get help.

      If you REALLY love pigeons, please stop breeding and start rescuing. There are far more in need than we rescuers have the capacity to help.

      Elizabeth Young, founder & director
      Palomacy Pigeon & Dove Adoptions

  3. I was hoping you would have some resources to help me. I live in Los Angeles. I have a domesticated pigeon that we had rescued from a bike accident. He has fully recovered and is in great condition now. . He lives at my place in a safe little house that we built for him. Unfortunately, we are moving away and cannot take him. I know he will not survive the wilderness. I’m afraid to just send him to some random bird breeder or racer. He’s healthy and clean. He has a little attitude when you get close to his house, but is otherwise friendly. He comfortably perches on my shoulders And sometimes even falls asleep on my arm. Do you have any suggestions? He’s approximately 3 months old. Thank you.

    • Hi, Julia- thank you for helping this pigeon & for looking out for his future well-being. (That’s really important as terrible things happen to “surplus” or unwanted pigeons.) Are you sure he can’t move with you? They are supremely adaptable & make great indoor pets. (See Birds tab for more info.) Regarding rehoming him, there are a couple of great pigeon rescuers in Southern CA. They, like us, are very challenged to keep up with all the birds they are asked to help but they do their very best to meet the need. You can find them on the map on our Resources tab- http://www.pigeonrescue.org/resources/some-pigeon-dove-friendly-rescues-in-the-us/ Good luck you you & to your pigeon.

  4. The same cruel ignorance is constantly taking place in Moscow! Thousands of doves are dying in the most horrible ways after being released during weddings.
    Russia is also not the best place for animals and birds to live in.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: