Doves and Pigeons: An Ultimate Guide on Rearing Them as Pets

Doves and Pigeons: Guide To Rearing Them as Pets

We have seen them being released at funerals and weddings, in movies and magic acts. Doves and pigeons are the earliest domesticated bird. If you are thinking about owning one of these birds, here is an ultimate guide to help you prepare.

What is the Difference Between Pigeons and Doves?

Doves and pigeons belong to the same biological family known as Columbidae. The family has more than 300 species, some of which are doves, other pigeons and some are called interchangeably. Both birds are short are stout, and they have short necks. They feed on seeds and berries, but federal pigeons roam around cities eating anything they come across. Another exciting thing about doves and pigeons is that they produce milk to feed their offspring; this is not a usual trait in birds.

Both the males and females have a crop, which is located in the throat. During the breeding season, the crop grows bigger and produces a nutritious fluid that looks like milk. Females and males are both involved in bringing up their young ones. They feed their offspring with this milky liquid. Their young ones are known as squabs, and they live in nests for 1 to 4 weeks.

Doves and Pigeons: Temperament

Surprisingly, doves and pigeons make adorable pets. They are good natured, easy to maintain, gentle and relatively quiet. They are a perfect choice for novice bird owners and can make great pets for teenagers. However, they will sit on your shoulder, do amazing tricks and squawk smart stuff.

When doves and pigeons are raised in a loving and caring environment, they are affectionate and loyal. They love being cuddled and petted. The birds have sweet sounding voices that many people find amusing and calming. They like human contact and are easy to train and tame. Although they are calm, placid birds, they might startle at times. Doves and pigeons are not aggressive, and the worst they can do is to scratch or bite, but this is rare.

If you are planning on rearing a dove or a pigeon, you should be willing to purchase a giant birdcage and bird feeders. The cage should be wide enough to allow them to perch and spread their wings. The water bowls should fit comfortably in the cage, without fear of them getting toppled over. When it is extremely cold or hot, you should keep them indoors. Outdoor cages should be kept away from direct sunlight.

Doves and pigeons are low-maintenance pets; requiring to be fed only a few times during the day. Make sure they exercise at least once a day to keep them healthy and active.

Types of Doves and Pigeons That Are Most Popular

  • Fantail

You cannot fail to recognize a fantail when you meet one. They have prominent chests, curved necks, and peacock-like tails. Their curved necks make them attractive. Thus you cannot miss seeing a fantail in bird shows. However, they serve more purpose than being flashy, because they are used in races too.

  • Beautiful fruit dove

It is one of the smallest ones in the dove family. It has a red crown, purplish-red feet, whitish throat and a yellow bill. It likes eating fruits from vines, trees, and palms. It can survive in most parts of the world, but it originated from the islands of Indonesia and New Guinea rainforests.

  • King pigeons

This species is mainly bred as food. Their young ones are taken away from their parents, fed and slaughtered at four weeks of age. Besides being kept for meat purposes, the king pigeon also makes a great pet.

  • Mourning dove

The bird is long-tailed and plump-bodied. It has short legs, a head that is relatively smaller than the body and a tiny bill. Their long pointed tail is unique to the species. Their color matches that of their open-country environment. They are delicate brown with black spots on their wings. They stay practically everywhere besides the woods.

  • Frillback

The breed was among the earliest to be kept for ornamental purposes. They are rarely kept for meat. The curly feathers make them look lacy. However, this came at the expense of their ability to fly. Although they can fly better than chickens, they cannot go beyond running away from danger. Considering their large size, this means that the birds can only manage to walk or run; and not to fly.

  • Ring-necked dove

It is commonly known as the white dove. It originated in Africa but can adapt to various climates around the world. It depends highly on water and berries. Its adaptability and hardiness make it a favorite breed for keeping as a pet. Although it comes in different sizes, most range between 8 and 12 inches long. It can live up to 25 years, but most survive for about 12 years.

  • The Archangel

This is a beautiful pigeon breed that is known for its metallic sheen all over its body. It has bronze and golden-like wings. It is easily identified by the clean legs and dark orange eyes.

Types of doves and pigeons

  • The homer pigeon

One great feature of this breed is that it can find its way home over 500 miles away. That is why it was used during the world war one and two to send messages.  However, it could only be used for one way communication. During the war, they were carried to battlefields then strapped with notes and released to go home. The soldiers would tie a capsule that contained the message on their feet. This is also the pigeon species that is used during funerals and in wedding ceremonies. They are released, and eventually, they find their way home.

  • Diamond dove

You can quickly identify this dove because of the diamond shaped coloring around the eye. They are smaller than typical doves. They make great pets. Their disadvantage is that they take a long time to bond with the owner. On the brighter side, eventually, they get extremely attached to the owner.

  • Tumbler pigeons

They are kept for their ability to flip, tumble and roll in flight. Initially, this adaptation was meant to keep predators at bay, but now the pigeons do it merely to show off and to entertain. This was one of the most highly prized birds during the Victorian era. Some people keep them because of their outstanding beauty.

  • Hens

Just as the name suggests, the bird looks like a chicken. It has a short upright tail. Its body is majorly plump and the neck curves in a way that they have more features of poultry than of pigeons. Most of the members of this species are ground dwellers; only a few of them can fly.

  • Cropper

Although pigeons widen their crops while in public, the croppers take this to an extreme. They like puffing their chests when they want a mate or when they are playing. The breed has more vertebrae than other pigeons.

Benefits of Owning Doves and Pigeons

Until you have lived with a dove or a pigeon, you may never realize how much they can add to your home. Their cheerful and inquisitive nature will amaze all the members of your family, and you shall never regret. Here are the benefits of owning a pigeon or a dove.

1. Long lifespan

Doves and pigeons can live for about 11 years, which is longer than other pets. It means that you will not have to deal with the grief of losing a family member due to short life spans. Therefore, you get a life-long companionship.

2. Good at social interactions

Research shows that keeping birds promotes good social interaction cues. This is important for your mental health.

3. Empathy

When you bring in a dove or a parrot into your home, your children will be more empathetic than they were previously. This is because they will learn how to care for the birds and in the process, they will have a deeper understanding of other people’s feelings and thoughts.

4. They keep your mind sharp

As you grow older, your mind begins slowing down, and your ability to learn is reduced. That may put you at the risk of dementia. As you train your dove and pigeon, your mind will stay sharp. The brain exercise is better than medication with regards to promoting proper cognitive functioning.

5. They help in reducing stress

Talking and playing with your pet is essential to lowering stress levels. It may also decrease your blood pressure; thus it is good for your heart health. What is more soothing than scritching your doves as they watch you go on with your household chores? It has been proven that petting a dove will lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

6. They are aesthetically pleasing

Photographers from around the world have taken a hobby in photographing pigeons and doves. They are also released during ceremonies like weddings to make the photo appealing.

7. They can compete in races!

Doves and pigeons can do more than sleep, eat and poop. They are known as racers. During a pigeon competition race, the competitors are released at the same time from a similar location. The bird that makes it to its home first carries the day.

How to Care for Doves and Pigeons

  • Doves and pigeons as pets –Should they be kept indoors or outdoors?

Most people know that they can keep dogs and cats as pets, but the rearing of doves and pigeons as pets is not widespread. That is why many doves and pigeons are in the shelters without a place to call home. Choosing to keep a dove or a pigeon as a pet is a noble idea; but should you keep them indoors or outdoors?

  • Pigeons and doves in an outdoor aviary

Unfortunately, doves and pigeons are targets for cats and hawks. That is why you should not let them stay outside a cage especially after bringing them to your home. You should keep them in a bird cage that is predator proof. Use 16 gauge wire mesh to keep rodents away from your beloved birds. Make sure that it has a shady section that will keep the birds cool during the hot days. No one ever likes small spaces, so make sure that the bird cage is as big as possible.

Doves and pigeons are good at leisure arts. They spend their time bathing, lounging and preening in the sun. They like watching the sky, showing off and napping. A pair of the birds will lay eggs after every four to five weeks. Make sure you replace the real eggs with fake ones for birth control. These birds are loyal to their family throughout their lifetime.

When caring for them, you should give them fresh water and food every day. Remember also to replace their poop area with new bedding every morning. Doves and pigeons are beautiful, full of personality and peaceful. If you can dedicate adequate time and attention, you can succeed at hand taming them. All species can also be befriended. It is easy to create an attractive, safe and charming aviary for pigeons and doves.

  • Pigeons and doves in an indoor aviary

You can also live with doves and pigeons inside your house. All they require is a huge bird cage, just like in the case of the outdoor aviary. Make sure that it is big enough for them to have fun while spreading their wings and legs. They will enjoy walking around the bird cage and flying when they feel like it. Doves and pigeons are smart birds that will quickly find a sports activity to engage in. They will also pick up the household routine quickly so that they will feel like family. Remember that they are emotional animals who need a good friend, which can be either a human being or a fellow bird. Living in a cage alone is not suitable for them.

You may also want to read our review of the best bird cages to help choose a suitable bird cage.

Related Post: Best Bird Cages

Doves and pigeons – Feeding

Knowledge of bird nutrition changes continuously. This is because of the increased know-how of the essence of what we feed our birds with. Just like other animals, birds require a balanced diet, which consists of vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, and fat. Different bird species need different foods.

  • Should I be worried over what my dove or pigeon eats?

Some pet owners are usually not concerned with what they feed their birds. You ought to talk to your vet regarding pigeon and dove nutrition. Many pet owners who fail to give proper nutrition to their birds are not aware that they are giving their pets the wrong food combinations.

  • What does my dove or pigeon naturally love to eat?

They prefer eating an array of grains, berries, greens, seeds, and fruits. They also eat earthworms, snails, and insects.

What Should I Feed My Dove or Pigeon

What Should I Feed My Dove or Pigeon?

Make sure you maintain a balanced diet and consult with your vet for assistance.


You can find formulated seed diets for doves and pigeons in the market. A commercial food includes a mixture of veggies, grains and mixed seeds. Various diet formulations for resting birds, breeding birds and performance birds are available. Pigeons are prone to calcium deficiency, so make sure that they don’t eat seeds only. Seeds should comprise of only 50% of a balanced meal. If you wish to give your birds seeds, here are the varieties you should consider:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • White proso millet
  • Milo or sorghum
  • Peanuts
  • Rapeseed and canary seed
  • Shelled and cracked corn

Fruits and vegetables

Give your doves and pigeons finely chopped greens and small pieces of fruits. Make sure you wash them thoroughly before feeding them to your pets. You do not necessarily have to peel the skin, because the skin contains specific nutritional value too. You should treat your dove or pigeon like a small baby, giving them small food portions only.


Make sure that water is in the bird cages at all times. If the quality of your tap water is not good enough for consumption, give them bottled water. Clean the bird feeders and drinkers daily using soap and clean water.

Can They Eat People Food?

Yes, they can, as long as the meal is wholesome and balanced. Remember to follow the guideline above and consult your vet if you are unsure of anything.  However, never give your pigeon or dove any junk food, chocolate, cheese, dairy products, caffeine, alcoholic beverages, and eggs.

Do Birds Have Varying Food Requirements at Certain Stages of Their Life?

When doves and pigeons are young, injured, stressed, raising their young ones or laying eggs, their dietary needs change. Make sure you consult a veterinary on the right diet to give your bird at whatever the stage.

Tips on How to Live with your Doves and Pigeons

Now that doves and pigeons can fly, you should keep them in large cages that allow them adequate space to fly and exercise. Make sure that there are toys inside the cage to keep them occupied. They also need lots of attention.

Once they are used to the environment, allow them to spend some time outside the cages. When your bird is playing outside its cage, ensure that all doors and windows are closed. Also, cover all mirrors and switch off the fans.

Consider potty-training your bird. While some cases have ended successfully, others haven’t. Even the success stories have a few incidents. All the same, the droppings of doves and pigeons are firm and easy to clean, especially for hardwood and tiled floors. You may also fit your bird using a diaper.

Doves and pigeons and pigeons sing and coo. You may also notice them laughing as they play. Most owners find this soothing. If you are into silent pets, try raising a fish.

Once you bond with your dove or pigeon, they will be comfortable sitting on your shoulder. Some might want to be stroked and even cuddled. The more time you spend with the bird, the more you will discover their exceptional personality.

Pigeons are intelligent birds that can be trained on how to read and perform well in tests. Over time, you can coach them to identify words from misspelled words. Like most animals, they respond positively to training. So you can easily coach them to do some stuff. During the training, food rewards will come in handy. This is because a food is a motivation to make doves and pigeons perform tricks.

Caring for Baby Doves and Pigeons

Doves and pigeons attain sexual maturity at about six months. At that time, your bird will lay eggs and hatch chicks. Although the parental pair will do most of the work regarding caring for their young ones, you can help a little. However, it is advisable to allow the parents to care for their offspring because they feed them with milk from their crops.

In case you have to care for a baby dove or pigeon without the help of the parents, request your vet to prescribe the best milk recipe for the young bird. The vet is likely to recommend a commercial baby bird formula that is to be blended to a liquid state for the newly hatched chicks to take through a syringe. Place the syringe in the offspring’s mouth and ensure the tip gets to their crop. Apply some petroleum jelly at the tip of the syringe to provide proper lubrication. Here are some additional tips:

  • Feed the bird that liquid mixture three times daily until they are five days old
  • After the fifth day, you may use a larger syringe than the one you have been using
  • When the bird is three weeks old, leave some seeds in the bird’s cage, so that they can learn how to peck
  • Train the baby dove or pigeon to drink water from a bowl, which is to be left in the cage too
  • Wean the baby bird by leaving the right food for him or her inside the cage. Hand feed them once a day, until when feeding becomes evident to them

Doves and pigeons fledge between the 4th and 6th week. At this point, they can start eating adult food.

Doves and Pigeons – Susceptible Diseases  

Doves and pigeons are hardy birds; their average lifespan is 10 to 12 years. However, their lives can be ended by these illnesses:

Canker (Trichomoniasis)

This is the most common disease among doves and pigeons.

  • Cause: It is transmitted via drinking water and when parents are feeding their young ones.
  • Symptoms: Infected birds have reduced activity, they lose weight, they have ruffled feathers, and they diarrhea a lot. You will observe some cheesy deposits in the mouth or throat. Young birds are more susceptible to the illness than older birds.
  • Prevention: Sanitize the bird feeders and water bowls. Also, maintain regular withering and feeding schedules.

E. coli (Colibacillosis)

The disease has been found to attack pigeons and doves now than before.

  • Cause: They are caused by a gram-negative organism that invades lofts via infected rodent droppings and infected dirt particles.
  • Symptoms: Considering that the E. coli bacteria can show up in any part of a dove or a pigeon, the symptoms may vary. When it attacks the young ones, chances of survival are minimal. As for adult birds, when they are attacked they lose weight, their droppings become loose, and they become listless. At times the droppings might have a foul odor. They might also experience respiratory problems.
  • Prevention: Keeping rodents away and maintaining proper hygiene is vital. Make sure to keep dust and ammonia levels low especially during an outbreak. Giving your doves and pigeons general antibiotics can also help in killing the bacteria before it attacks them.


This is a common infection, not only in pigeons and doves but also in other birds.

  • Cause: The highly infectious disease is caused by protozoa, which attack the birds’ intestines. It is present to a certain extent in all doves and pigeons, but it only manifests when the immunity is compromised. Adult birds get the disease when they drink dirty water or when they get into contact with moist droppings. It can also attack young birds if they are under chronic stress.
  • Symptoms: Infected birds have little appetite. They stay puffed up on patches and are not interested in moving. They prefer to keep their eyes closed. Droppings are often loose and greenish. If they lose weight very fast, they might die eventually.
  • Prevention: Keep the lofts clean and dry. Do not allow your dove or pigeon to come into contact with the droppings. Disinfect the drinkers often and do not let the bird to drink from mud paddles or the gutters. Do not allow rodents to come into contact with the bird’s water and feeds.

Pigeon Pox

  • Cause: It is spread by a virus that is closely related to fowlpox and canarypox. The most common transmission is from mosquito bites. When this happens, you will notice some lesions on the featherless parts of the bird. The other form is due to droplets infections. It involves the mucous membranes of the larynx, trachea, and pharynx.
  • Control: The best way of managing the disease is eliminating as many of the biting insects as you can. Vaccination is also necessary, so ask your vet about it.

Train Your Doves and Pigeons

How to Train Your Doves and Pigeons To Do Things on Command

Pigeons and doves have been domesticated birds for several centuries. The two do not have much difference besides their sizes. Doves are usually smaller bodied as compared to pigeons. On the other hand, pigeons have rounded tails with a stout and massive body. Training a dove takes more time than coaching a pigeon. If you are planning on rearing a racer or a carrier, a white homing pigeon is the best species for this job. As for doves, the diamond and the ring-neck are the most trainable. All the same, a well-cared-for bird will respond positively.

Step 1 – Understand Your Bird

Knowing your bird is the first step in training your doves and pigeons. This is also known as body handling. Spend time with them and create a bond. Be patient and gentle in handling them. Play with its feet and lift its wings often. Note that the more you pet your bird, the more they become familiar with you and the more they feel comfortable being held. Show them love and attention. No bird or animal can learn when under fear. Doves and pigeons are happiest and most affectionate when they are treated kindly and when living with other pigeons and doves.

Steps 2 – Give Rewards

Reward your pigeon or dove when working with them. The gift can be treats of any kind such as wheat, millet, cracked corn and canary grass. That way, you will be teaching them an operant condition where they will learn that a certain action results in being given special treats. By observing the bird’s body language and getting used to their preferences, you will be able to respond to your pet in a way that breeds better communication.

Step 3 – Whistle

Whistle to the bird when you want to send certain commands such as returning to a position or sitting on your shoulder. With time, they will learn the sound of specific whistling, and they will respond accordingly. You can use tiny bird whistle mouthpieces to help you mimic your pet’s whistling.

Step 4 – Perching

If you want to train your doves and pigeons to go back to their perch, you can put a stuffed white sock on the perch to attract them to the perch. The bird wants to know where they will land. Release the pigeon or dove], this time from a short distance to the perching point to make your pet to realize what you want them to do. This will be easier for a pigeon than a dove because the latter does not have the natural homing instincts of the pigeon.

Make sure that the birdcage is large enough to allow the bird to have at least two perches at varying levels so that they can “fly” from a point to another. Doves prefer high perches. So, you can place water on one perch and food on another perch that is set at a high place. This will help your dove to exercise.


  1. Colleen Cancio, 10 Myths About Pigeons, HowStuffWorks
  2. Laurie Hess, DVM, Feeding Pigeons and Doves, VCA Hospitals
  3. What To Do About Pigeons, The Humane Society
  4. About Pigeons, The MSPCA–Angell

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