In the wild, pigeons live on average 3 to 6 years. With humans, always having access to water, food and shelter (an aviary), its life expectancy can reach 15 years.
Pigeon and reproduction
Sexual dimorphism is almost non-existent, the female being generally slightly smaller and thinner than the male. The simplest way to determine its sex is to observe its behavior. During the courtship and even after the couple is formed, the male assumes a typical attitude: he swells his neck, lifts his iridescent feathers a little, moves in rhythm up and down, turns around and makes a particular sound. When the couple is formed, they rub their cheeks against each other and take on very tender attitudes.
They are monogamous, their bond lasts a lifetime, and only ends with the death of one of them. Only then does the survivor decide whether or not to look for a new partner.
During mating, the pigeons hold each other by the beak and bend the neck from side to side several times, until the female squats to be fertilized by the male.
Able to breed already at the age of five to six months, females have a continuous ovulation (about once a month), so they tend to breed almost continuously.
Pigeons build a nest with twigs, in which the female lays two white eggs. During 17-18 days the pair alternate regularly for the brood, until hatching. In case the parents notice that one of their young is not alive or that fertilization has not occurred, they will get rid of the eggs that are no longer needed and they will mate again without delay. The eggs are laid two to three days apart, but will only be hatched together, to avoid delayed births, which would be a problem for the pigeons in raising their young.
In case of death of the male, the female will continue to incubate and raise the young, but if the opposite were to happen, the male would incubate the eggs only for a few days, before abandoning the nest for good.
Young squabs are born with pink skin with a light yellow down, closed eyes and a long, large soft beak. The weight of a newborn is about 20g and will reach 500g after a month.
As the days go by, the yellow down becomes denser and during the first week of life the feathers start to grow back, pushing the down away, which should never be pulled out.
During the first days, the squabs will be fed only with a whitish, fluid substance, which gradually becomes more and more creamy, formed by the mucous membrane of the goitre, called “jabot milk” or “pigeon milk”. Very rich in proteins and lipids, it is therefore very nourishing, allowing the squabs to double their birth weight in only 48 hours.
After 7-10 days, the production of crop milk decreases and the squabs’ diet is supplemented with cereal and legume seeds, partially digested and mixed with water. Usually it is the male that transfers the pre-digested seeds to the female’s mouth, which she mixes with the appropriate amount of crop milk or water, as needed.
At about 25 days of life, the feathers are almost permanent, and the newborns are almost ready to fly (at about 30 days).
In captivity, squabs should not be fed in the same way as other birds: do not use a large syringe and push it deep, nor force food into their beaks. It should be noted that it is the squab that pushes its bill into the parents’ mouths: by trying to make it open its bill at all costs, its reaction will be to squeeze the bill very tightly.
Here are the good methods to feed the youngsters, without stress.
Given the particular way of feeding, it is therefore necessary to reproduce and simulate the parents’ beak and the food must be creamy and slightly warm, as for a human baby. A first method is to use a cylindrical container with a diameter of about 2 cm and open on both sides. One of the two sides should be closed with a membrane (such as a piece of cloth for example, attached with an elastic band) that is soft enough so that the squab does not hurt itself while eating, and
in which a hole will have been drilled so that the beak can pass through it easily. On the other side we will put the food in it.
You will have to position the cylinder almost vertically and gently push the pigeon’s beak towards the hole, to make him understand that this is where his food is.
There is another very simple system: take a certain amount of food from its mouth by mixing it with its own saliva; then take the squab’s beak between its half-open lips, so that it can suck. It should be pointed out that human saliva contains the same enzyme, ptyalin, which allows predigestion of the food, making it more suitable for the youngster’s delicate digestive system.
This method is increasingly used in many countries to study the behavior of birds, monitor their movements and observe the evolution of the species. It is also very useful to return the lost pigeon to its owner.