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

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.

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“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.

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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.
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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

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Never “set free” domestic birds!

Please share with your friends, family and colleagues. This happens a lot!

From Never Buy & Release Birds, originally published May 23, 2012 at RescueReport.org

Note from Palomacy Director Elizabeth Young
Please speak out against “dove releases”. Whether done by professionals using trained white homing pigeons as described above or by do-it-yourselfers who tragically buy and “release” white King pigeons or white Ringneck doves, it is animal exploitation that risks the injury, suffering and death of the birds used.


  1. Please stop this, I never knew until now how seriously cruel this is! These poor, dear birds! All for us to look good! So very wrong!

  2. Pingback: How to Take Care of a Rescued Pigeon (for Newbies) | Palomacy

  3. Wow I never knew how cruel this was. I always believed they would be set free. I changed my mind permanently on wanting this one day for my wedding ……I will spread the word……this is cruelty! Thank you so much for opening my eyes ….

  4. I heard that a float during the Jan 1, 2017 Rose Parade in Pasadena is planning to release 40 birds in honor of the 40 Pulse Night Club massacre victims. Isn’t this proposed release cruel? There are companies that “rent” birds for release that claim their practice is safe for the birds.
    Can the host of this site please comment?

    BTW, the aforementioned float is sponsored by Michael.Weinstein@aidshealth.org

    • To “release doves” would not honor the innocent victims killed in the Pulse massacre but rather only compound the hurt with more suffering & death. We have reached out to the AHF & have joined many others on social media to raise awareness & stop this misguided effort. Thank you for your advocacy. Thank you for your compassion.

  5. Thank you for clarifying this!

  6. White doves released at Carnival for Grenfell victims yesterday.I wondered what would happen to these birds – now I know. A well meant gesture, but very sad for the birds.

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