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Pigeon Mating

An adult female pigeon is called a hen, and an adult male pigeon is called a cock. Cocks strut, coo, and spread their tail into a full half-moon shape and often turn a full circle when they want to mate. Hens, on the other hand, will swell their crops with some air but usually stand at a more upright angle (45 degrees or so), as opposed to the cock who almost bows to the floor. On the ground, a cock drives, or chases, his mate away from other prospective suitors. A cock then struts around the hen, eventually standing up, spreading his tail, and bowing to coo at her. Other intimate pigeon behavior includes billing, often a prelude to mating, when the hen sticks her bill down the cock's throat and takes an offering of regurgitated food (right picture). This is a part of the courtship and mating rituals of pigeons, and billing can be followed by preening, when pairs lightly preen each other's heads. If you spend a few more minutes watching them after billing, you'll likely witness the behavior leading to copulation (left picture). After this rather quick mating, sexually active birds, usually cocks, frequently clap their wings together in a sort of advertising flight, and may combine the claps with an ostentatious glide, with wings held in a "V" and tails spread.

Once paired, pigeons usually mate for life unless they are separated by natural causes or by humans. The domestic pigeon normally reaches sexual maturity at about four to six months of age. Depending on the local temperatures and food supply, they may breed all year round. Many domesticated pigeon fanciers, however, prevent them from breeding continuously---either by separating the sexes or by letting mated pairs sit on wooden (dummy) eggs. Once mated, the male (cock) will begin to hunt for a suitable place to make a nest and rear the young. Domesticated pigeons do not nest in trees as do many other doves. They are descendants of a cliff dwelling species and prefer their nest to be on a solid surface. Most fanciers (breeders) also provide a nest bowl and some nesting materials (pine needles, tobacco stems, etc.). The nest bowl helps to ensure that the eggs do not roll out from under the pair.

New Eggs

When pigeons start mating, the hen usually lays her first egg eight days later and the second egg two days after the first egg. The first time they lay, it is normal for young hens to lay smaller than average eggs or only one egg in her first clutch. Pigeons usually lay two purely white eggs in confinement, but never more than two, unless, from the absence of a sufficient number of male birds, two hens pair, make a nest, and lay four eggs, which of course are sterile. Unfertilized eggs, after being sat upon for the usual period are deserted. The first egg is usually laid in the evening between 5 P.M. and 7 P.M. Because one of the hen's ovaries never develops, hens can only produce one egg at a time. It takes about two days for the second egg to develop in the ovary after the first is laid and has cleared the oviduct. The second egg is usually laid in the afternoon between 2 P.M. and 3 P.M. It is suggested that the breeders should take the first laid egg away from the parents and not let them start the incubation process until the second egg is laid. Otherwise, the first laid egg will hatch 36-48 hours earlier than the second. This will cause the first baby to be nearly twice the size of the newly hatched second chick. The parents may choose to neglect the second chick as they may think the survival chance of the first and bigger chick is greater than the younger and weaker chick. As you will notice in the pictures below, I do not remove the first egg so that both chicks can hatch at the same time. I give my breeders more than enough food to feed their offspring, and I never had any problems with this. I also try not to handle the eggs or disturb the parents during their incubation. The developing embryo is very fragile and just a little shaking can cause its death.

Foster parenting

If you are a pigeon breeder, at some point you will want to switch eggs under foster parents for one reason or another and replace them with other eggs from other parents. This is usually done because you want more babies from one pair, and you don’t want to wait two months for two babies. Instead, you want to foster the eggs under other pairs so that the pair you are trying to get offspring from could lay their next round of eggs in 10 days to raise more babies. Foster parenting is very common when breeding pigeons. This is easily done, but the timing of incubation with both pairs needs to be similar. Usually, if the sets of eggs are laid within three days of each other, the switch goes successfully. If it is more than that, the babies may hatch too early, and that will cause babies to perish because the foster parents will not have sufficient crop milk. On the other hand, if they hatch too late, the foster parents may desert the eggs or already be on the downside of crop milk production. Every time my breeders lay eggs I write down the date. This allows me to estimate the date of hatching. It also helps me to achieve the proper timing for foster parenting. Eggs can be easily held for three to five days at room temperature, before incubation has started, and placed under foster parents when the timing is right. Eggs held in the hydrator drawer of a refrigerator can be held somewhat longer. If you decide to pull the first egg from the parents, make sure to keep the egg in a cool, dark place on a layer of soft tissue paper until the next egg is laid, and then return it to the nest. To avoid soft shells, which can be caused by poor nutrition, diet or deficiency of calcium (grit), give your breeders a lot of grit and more than usual food. I have noticed some of my breeders don't incubate steadily on an egg until the second egg is laid. This is why many times both eggs hatched around same time.


The parents take turns keeping their eggs warm (incubating). Incubation is not equally shared since the hen does most of the work each day. Only when she leaves the nest, does the cock assumes the duties. Cocks usually stay on the nest during the day, and the hen takes over after 5 P.M. until late morning. If an egg cools down too much after incubation has started, the egg will not develop and hatch. The parents need to keep a steady temperature of about 102-105 degrees Fahrenheit, 24 hours per day for the embryo to properly develop. The hen or cock will get off the nest when nature calls, eat and drink but will resume incubating right away, not letting the egg lose its temperature. After five days, the eggs may be inspected to see if they are fertile. It's easy to inspect an egg; just hold the egg up to a bright light. If the egg is fertile, you can see the blood vessels through the thin shell. If it is not fertile, the eggs will look clear inside. After the fifth day of inspection, try not to handle the eggs or disturb the incubation for the remaining of its process.


Under normal circumstances, the first egg will hatch after 18 days and the second egg after 19 days if parents started to incubate when the first egg was laid. Otherwise, they will both hatch on the same day. The hatching process takes from 15 to 30 hours. The newly hatched pigeon is called a hatchling. During hatching, you should NOT help a baby out of an egg. The baby develops the muscles in his neck, legs, and body as he pushes out of the egg. This may take 24-36 hours or longer from the initial pip until the baby is out. If you interfere with the egg, you will most likely cause the baby to bleed to death. There are many tiny blood vessels lining the egg. Breaking these will kill the bird. If you allow the bird enough time, the blood vessels will dry and the bird can hatch. The baby depends on nutrients available from the yolk; these are absorbed into the baby's belly. It is also very important not to move the egg during the few days before the bird hatches. The baby will orient itself inside the egg so that its head is at the larger end of the egg near the air sac. The baby pips its way through the shell using the edge of its beak. Once a hole is made, the baby needs to rest for several hours and acclimate its lungs to the outside air. The baby should not be disturbed during these critical phases. The baby will turn inside the egg and continue to struggle until it's out of the shell.

When they get out of the shell, they will be wet and exhausted and will usually lie still. After some time, they will begin to perk up. When the chicks have hatched and have dried, they are fed by their parents within the first hour. Try not to handle the hatchlings as they are very fragile and need protection and warmth from their parents. Parents should be provided food and drinking water to produce pigeon milk for the hatchlings; unlike mammals, both sexes produce the crop milk in pigeons.

First 30 days

The young pigeons are born in a most immature and helpless condition. The young are usually covered with long yellow down, but in those domesticated varieties that have certain colors, this down may be absent as in the silver and dun birds. Thus, it is easy to distinguish between a young dun and a black in the same nest, the one being naked, the other covered with profuse yellow down. A young pigeon, until the age of 30 days, is called a squab. Squabs are fed by a special substance called pigeon milk during their first week of life. Pigeon milk is made in a special part of the bird's digestive system called the crop. To feed their young, pigeons do something almost no other parents can: they both nurse their young. They produce high power milk that is so nutritious, the squabs can double their size in just 48 hours. The pigeon milk is a super-charged food with more proteins and fat than cow or human milk. Although it's high in fat, to help the young squabs develop fast, it's also packed full of antioxidants and immune-system-boosting proteins. (Considering pigeons spend their entire lives in urban squalor, they must have incredible immune systems.) Pigeon milk fuels the most explosive growth rate of almost any animal on the planet. Squabs eat almost as much as their own weight of pigeon milk every day. In just two weeks, they become half the size of their parents. After 25 days, they are nearly fully grown and can feed themselves. After 35 days, they leave home. When hatchlings are about ten days old, they are being fed on a straight grain diet. Most pigeon breeders band their birds with seamless bands (ring), and the time to do so is between five and twelve days, depending on the pigeon breed and speed of growth. After about two weeks, the chicks are left alone in the nest for longer periods as the parents, especially the hen, will start ignoring the chicks as the pair is preparing for the next round of eggs. After 14 to 18 days, the cock pretty much cares for the babies alone. The youngsters are weaned by about 30 to 35 days, but at about 21 days most parent birds will have already gone to nest again. They should have another nest bowl and nest area (it can be the other end of their nest box) available to them. Most hens will stop feeding the young once they lay again, and the cock bird will bear the brunt of feeding the babies until their final weaning. A young bird who is learning to eat and drink on its own is called a squeaker. When a young bird is ready to fly, it is called a fledgling. When the young bird is flying but is less than six months old it is called a juvenile. Pigeons normally don't reach maturity level to breed until they are four to six months old.

There are a lot of different ways pigeon breeders use to determine the sex of the young birds. One of the ways that I use and find very accurate most of the time is measuring their toes. When banding the babies, looking from the underside of the foot, lay the three toes straight alongside each other. Leaving the middle and longer toe in the middle, align the other two next to the middle one and compare the outside toes against each other. If one of the outside toe is longer than the other one, the youngsters are “generally” cocks. If they are equal in length, then the youngster is “generally” a hen. This method can be used with pigeons up to one month old as the feet after that cannot be relied on since the feet alter shape when the bird has been walking on them for some time. Although there are other methods to determine the sex of pigeons, this method works best for me. However, please note that none of the known methods are 100% accurate. The pigeons that lay eggs are 100% hens, and that’s the only accurate way of sexing pigeons.

Correcting Splay Leg

Some baby pigeons develop splay leg, a condition in which one or both legs stick out to the side and the bird is unable to stand. This problem might be caused by improper bedding in the nest (the surface is too slippery), or by a disturbance (the bird is shaken or thrown), or by poor nutrition (lack of calcium in the diet). Sometimes, only one egg hatches in the nest. When that happens, I leave the unhatched egg in the nest for 10 more days for the hatched baby to lean on to prevent splay leg..

Splay leg can be corrected, but it is very important to start the rehabilitation as soon as you are aware of the condition. To correct splay leg, you will need to secure the legs in their natural position. The most effective way is to use a small sponge. Make two slits in the sponge using the scissors’ point. Turn the scissors to make a round hole. The two slits should be just wide enough that the legs will go straight down from the body. Don't put them too close together as they will tear into each other. You have to find a balance here. You don't want to harm the bird's legs by over-forcing it, but you will have to pull on them a bit to get them properly situated.

You can also use vet tape (self-adhesive gauze). Place the legs under the bird in their natural position (about one inch apart), and run the tape around the legs. You might need to lay the baby on its back to do this. You can wrap tape around the section between the legs to keep the legs apart. Alternatively, you can use any kind of soft material (gauze, sponge, cotton) between the legs. Be very careful that you do not cut off circulation in the legs. You will want to check the bird regularly and change the tape when it gets soiled.

The bird will be very clumsy at first, but it will soon learn to stand with its legs in their correct position. The time needed for healing could be one to three weeks. If you do not see improvement, you should take the bird to a rehabilitator or avian vet.

Day to day pictures of a baby Turkish Tumbler development

The following pictures are day to day development of my Turkish Tumblers that I took approximately the same time everyday for 30 days. You may click on each picture to enlarge it.

Parents Parents Parents Parents
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Day 5 Day 6 Day 7 Day 8
Day 9 Day 10 Day 11 Day 12
Day 13 Day 14 Day 15 Day 16
Day 17 Day 18 Day 19 Day 20
Day 21 Day 22 Day 23 Day 24
Day 25 Day 26 Day 27 Day 28
Day 29 Day 30 Day 31 Day 32

Training Young Performing Birds

There are many different ways and styles to train young performing birds, and you can use the same methods to train any other breed. I would like to share how I train and fly my performing breeds like Turkish Tumblers, Iranian High Flyers, and Birmingham Rollers. I use the same method for all of them, and it works for me.

The young birds should be separated from their parents when they are about 30 days old. By that time, they are able to eat and drink on their own and get ready for their flight training. Training for flights is essential to keep a young bird from becoming too fat and lazy. It is important to mix the young ones with the rest of the birds as soon as they are old enough so they can learn a lot of different things from the adults. By watching the adults, the young ones know where the water and food is, how to get in and out of the coop, etc. In addition, the young birds get used to breeders’ movements and the distinct sounds when he/she calls them.

I always use a distinct whistle and shake my food can before I feed my birds. As soon as they hear that sound, they know it's time to eat. Most of them even know and get excited when I get near the food containers as they can predict that I am about to feed them. This is very important for young birds to learn and follow for the future. I fly and feed my birds once a day. My flying birds know that they only get to eat after they fly. This discipline gives me total control over my birds. This way, I can call them anytime I want by making my distinct sound and use their hunger to my advantage. The last thing a breeder would want is to see his/her birds to land elsewhere than their own coop. When flown hungry, the birds will not land elsewhere, or even if they did, they will not stay there long as they know that they will be fed soon. If I see a bird that does not land on my coop and does not come after I call all my birds, I don't feed that bird that day. By the time the bird comes to my coop, there is little or no food left, and that teaches the bird a hard lesson not to be late for dinner again. Believe it or not, this works. Management of feeding pigeons should be the way the fancier make his/hers birds obedient. However, this does not mean starving them into submission but rather instilling in them the knowledge that they will get fed after they fly and trap in unhesitatingly.

After I separate the babies from their parents, I wait about a week for them to get used to living a life without their parents' guidance and protection. They get to learn where the water is and when the feeding time is as well as how to get out of the coop and come back for safety. They are reluctant and afraid to go out in the beginning, but they get used to it very quickly. Then I start using them as my droppers. When I want my flying birds to land, I let my breeders go out, and I make my distinct noises, letting them know that it’s time to land and eat. When I start training the young birds, I use my young birds as droppers instead of the breeders. This gives young birds a chance to observe the flyers and watch them land. This goes on about a week, and during that time, I observe my young birds. Young ones take off and start flying and landing with the adults. This is how I know if young birds are ready to fly and be trained.

Once the young birds start showing interest in flying by circling over the roof couple of times, it is time to train them with the adults. It is very important, however, not to release the babies with the adults at the same time. Otherwise, the adults will take them very high up in the air, and the babies will get tired. This will make them get lost or land somewhere else than the coop, which is a bad habit to learn in the early ages. Because of my work schedule, I train my birds to fly for about an hour. When I am training young birds, I start flying the young birds when the adults are about to land. At first, about five minutes before my adult flyers land, I release the young birds in training. A couple of days later, I start flying them during the last 10 minutes and increase their flying time little by little every day. Eventually, the young birds will have built enough chest muscle and endurance to fly the same amount of time as the adults. Depending on the breed and family of the bird, as young birds start flying longer and keeping up with the rest, they also start tail riding and eventually tumbling or rolling. They get better as performers and reach their performing potential in a year.

Early training of a young performance breed bird is very important and should be done as soon as they are able to fly. As the young birds continue to grow, it is important for their chest muscles to be developed during flight to take a different shape, which will allow for their vertical climbs for Tumblers and somersault for Rollers.

Copyright 2011 by Arif Mümtaz. All rights reserved.

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