Pigeon family values

Since I started fostering pigeons, I usually have from four to twelve at a time and they pair up in unpredictable ways. I’ve had a few that stayed single for months (Rocky, Louie, Willow) and others that hooked up in a love-at-first-sight kind of way (Big Man & Amber, Jesse & Hollywood) and everything in between. Once a pair does begin courting, they spend all their time together.

King Pigeons on Couch

They eat together, feed each other, preen together, preen each other, nap together and spend a lot of time looking for good nest real estate. The cock auditions various corners, nooks and crannies for his hen, cooing, moaning & groaning over each one to persuade her that it’s a good nest site.

Pigeon Preening  Pigeon Courtship

Nest building & nesting

Pigeons love straw and will place a piece at each potential nest spot. The cocks are very creative which makes me laugh when I clean up because I find straw in all kinds of improbable locations.

Once they claim a nest site, the hen usually lays the first egg within a couple of days and a second egg one to two days later.

Nesting Pigeon     Pigeons Nesting in Basket

The eggs are incredibly beautiful — a pearly, glowing pink and one or the other of the birds is sitting on them at all times.

Pigeon Eggs     Size of Pigeon Egg

They take shifts that last for hours and while one sits on the eggs, the other eats, bathes and lounges. Sometimes the bird off the nest will feed the on bird but mostly the sitting bird fasts through their shift. The sitting birds really impress me because they will sit tight on their nest even in the terrifying face of repeated attacks from first the roaring shop vac and then the stealthy mop.

They don’t poop while they’re on the nest either and that ability to hold it means they could be potty trained, same as parrots can be. Tank, who loves to eat, impressed me the other day when, after being outside in the fresh air and sunshine for a couple of hours (without food), he went straight back to the nest to relieve his mate Country rather than stop at the food dish the way Tony Baby did when he got back.

Pigeon birth control

Pigeon eggs normally hatch after about 18 days but since there are more pigeons than there are adopters, I swap out the real eggs soon after both are laid, using wooden ‘dummy’ eggs as pigeon birth control. Even though the dummy eggs are designed to replicate the real ones, they aren’t near as fine.

Replacing pigeon eggs with dummies

  1. Warm the fake eggs in your hands before swapping them. They are a poor substitute for real eggs which are amazingly warm when taken from under the sitting bird. Pigeon eggs are like the ones you’d eat at breakfast — all yolk and egg white without a developed embryo, provided they were pulled soon enough after being laid.
  2. Remove real eggs from nest. Either wait for both pigeons to leave the nest, or, if the nest is always attended by one of the parents, gently reach under the sitting pigeon to remove the eggs. Quickly replace the real eggs with the warmed, wooden eggs by sliding them gently under the bird. (With experience, you can master this switch with one deft move.)
  3. Dispose of the real eggs. Eggs should be destroyed. Shaking real eggs or putting them in the fridge doesn’t work. They will still hatch! (I have an unconfirmed report that even a frozen chicken egg hatched once it was brooded.) The MickaCoo rule is REMOVE all real eggs! Don’t use them for fakes (not even if boiled). It is too confusing. I think the eggs are way too beautiful to throw away, so I set them out on the fence where ravens find and eat them.
  4. Check for new, freshly-laid eggs frequently. Sometimes a hen will lay new eggs in with the fakes.
  5. Supplement calcium even if you’re not breeding. Calcium supports the hens’ health and reduce risks of becoming egg bound, egg yolk peritonitis, etc.

I’m sure the pigeons notice that the eggs are different but they continue warming and guarding them as if they were real. They try really hard to hatch those wooden eggs. Usually between 14 and 21 days, they give up on the fake eggs and abandon their nest-sitting in exchange for a week or so of honeymooning where the couple again spends all their time together. After the short break, they start over with a nest and lay new eggs. They are very family oriented and often (but not always) mate for life.

Dove birth control

The dove egg-laying cycle is similar to the pigeon’s, but dove eggs hatch in about 14 days. Dove birth control is the same as pigeon birth control: Following the steps above, place the real eggs with fake eggs. The process can be a bit trickier with doves because they will sometimes lay their eggs in nests with existing eggs. It’s important to be judicious about replacing all of the real eggs.

Buying Dummy Eggs

Feed stores will often carry wooden replacement eggs for pigeons. A few online sources of dummy eggs include:

Download our Pigeon & Dove Birth Control flyer

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