Pigeons can be found in almost every city and town worldwide, opting to breed and dwell specifically in places and spaces inhabited by humans. But for an animal that is so prolific in our daily lives, how much time do we actually spend thinking about them? It struck me just the other day that I know very little about pigeons and their various intricacies.
For this reason, I decided to do some reading about them and came across a really interesting question. Do pigeons have feelings? While this may seem like a strange thing to ponder, I was amazed by what I learned in the course of my research. I didn’t realize how intelligent they are and what their various behaviors might mean.
The short answer is yes, pigeons do have feelings, but in this article, I’ll go into more detail about what exactly makes them tick and what gets their emotions going into overdrive. Like me, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to discover some interesting facts about these feathery little friends and their feelings. Read on to find out what possible emotions they experience and how they express them.
Do Pigeons Have Feelings?
While we do not know to what extent, studies have shown that pigeons have feelings and experience emotions, albeit a bit differently from humans. They are astoundingly intelligent birds, and it is believed that they are capable of feeling fear, grief and sadness, affection, and excitement. They express their feelings through various behaviors, such as vocalizing, isolating, and ruffling their feathers.
If we look at pigeons’ behavior, it suddenly makes sense that they have feelings. Most of us have seen a pigeon cozy up to a mate or fly away in fright. We’ve heard them vocalize and, on occasion, probably even seen them fluffed up and looking miserable. All of these behaviors are markers of emotion. They just don’t have communication tools to express their feelings the way humans do.
Furthermore, some arguments suggest that pigeons are self-aware, indicating self-consciousness. This idea results from a study in which pigeons were subject to a mirror test, during which researchers found that they could recognize themselves. Having the ability to recognize oneself implies thought, and with thought comes feelings and emotions. While their intelligence is obviously not as sophisticated as ours, nor their expression, they are believed to experience both thought and instinct.
Do Pigeons Get Sad?
Like humans, pigeons can undergo feelings of loss, sadness, and grief. This is particularly evident if they lose a mate. One of the reasons why pigeons feel loss is because they’re inherently monogamous, meaning they mate for life. With that kind of attachment, it is natural that pigeons will become distressed if they suddenly find themselves without their loved ones. They are also known to grieve for lost chicks or eggs.
In the wild, pigeons will find mates and stay with them until one or the other passes on. While this is more instinctual than strictly emotional, it seems that they grow attached to their mate over time. In the event that one of them dies or disappears, the remaining pigeon will become visibly depressed and isolate themselves. They’ve even been known to starve themselves when they pine. Furthermore, they will emit soft grunting sounds to let other pigeons realize they’re not doing too well.
Both in the wild and in captivity, it has been noted that female pigeons may grieve for lost eggs and chicks. This can be heartbreaking to watch, especially in the case of deceased chicks, as they tend to express their sadness by busying themselves around the body as if expressing disbelief. Tame pigeons that are extremely bonded to their trainers may also show sadness if they are separated from them.
Can Pigeons Show Affection?
Pigeons are capable of showing affection to their mates or to their trainers and handlers. This does not begin as romantic love or desire as humans understand it. Instead, it is driven by instinct. Pigeons have exceptionally long mating rituals, for which they select one partner to whom they’ll be bonded for life. Over time, this develops into affection. Similarly, tame pigeons may also develop an attachment to their owners based on familiarity and trust, which takes patience and time.
For pigeons, the instinct to mate has nothing to do with attraction and everything to do with the procreation of the species. Nevertheless, pigeons remain faithful to their chosen partner for their entire life. When we pose the question of if pigeons can show affection, the answer is not as straightforward as, for example, dogs or cats showing affection to one another. However, we know that pigeons become attached to each other and show affection because they roost and sometimes snuggle together ad grieve if their partner dies.
In this regard, it’s easier to tell if a pigeon can show affection by studying tame pigeons’ relationships with their owners. Pigeons that are bonded to humans may show their love by eating out their owner’s hand, perching on their hands or body, and flapping their wings without flying to show excitement. Considering that they are wild animals, a pigeon trusting a human enough to feel comfortable around them is usually a clear sign that a level of affection exists between bird and human.
So, in answer to the question: “do pigeons have feelings?” we can safely say that they do. However, we do need to add the disclaimer that their feelings are rudimentary and often motivated by instinct and expressed with behavior. Of course, birds can’t pull faces to tell us they’re sad or outraged, so they have to rely on the tools at their disposal, namely their actions. Most often, their gestures result from extreme distress of fear, loss, or anxiety. This leads us to believe that the emotions they feel most strongly result from experiences rather than complex thoughts. Even though pigeons are extremely smart, they’re still far off from processing what is happening to them. Instead, they feel the effects of their immediate circumstance and express their mindset accordingly.