Doves and pigeons theoretically can mate but they don’t.
..and for good reason; the offspring of pigeons and ringneck doves are sterile.
In the wild individuals of a species never mate with another species no matter if it’s possible or not, this is due to behavioral and reproductive isolation.
If they did, (and if being sterile wasn’t a common problem) closely related species would just mesh together into combined species and we’d soon run out of pigeons and doves.
We know that doves and pigeons are all in the same taxonomical family – Columbidae – and obviously share many similar characteristics, including genetic similarities. So why can they not mate successfully?
There is Precedent!
A successful result of a dove/pigeon mating would be a hybrid.
Hybrid animals are the result of breeding between two different but extremely closely related species.
Most people are aware of some hybrid animals such as the mule (a cross between a donkey and a horse) and the Dzo (a cross between a yak and domestic cow) is successful in Asia, but humans have bred some pretty bizarre examples.
The list includes
- Liger – Lion and tiger
- Grolar bear – Grizzly bear and polar bear
- Cama – Camel and llama
- Savannah cat – Domestic cat and serval.
It can be seen, therefore, that it is possible for interbreeding between some species.
Why Can’t Doves and Pigeons Mate?
The definition of a species is a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes (i.e. interbreeding).
We’ve already said that they belong to the same family so it might be fair to assume that most inexperienced people consider doves and pigeons to be more or less the same.
There is some truth to this, as they are both members of the Columbidae family, but there are more than 300 different species, and the bottom line is that doves and pigeons are different species, and therefore not the same at all.
Pigeons and doves do not mate and procreate simply because they are different species.
It’s an issue of chromosomes.
Pigeons have a total of 80 chromosomes in their genetic makeup, whilst doves have only 76 or 78.
This makes it very difficult for any viable mating to occur.
That being said, there are some suggestions that pigeons have occasionally mated with doves, but these stories only ever stem from birds that are being kept in less-than-ideal captive conditions like small cages.
This is not a natural thing to occur, and it very rarely happens.
When it comes to the situation out in the wild, we are quite confident in stating that pigeons and doves will never be tempted to mate when they have so much choice among their own species groups.
Though they will not be tempted or instinctively drawn to trying to breed with one another in the wild, it is not uncommon to find the two species living with each other.
Pigeons and doves are very peaceful birds and have no problems living in mixed species flocks, and we are sure that you will be more than familiar with the fact that they are comfortable existing among humans in urban areas!
Something that adds to the confusion on this subject is the fact that many people make the mistake of thinking that pigeon is the name for a male and dove is the name for a female.
As we know by now, this isn’t the case, and rather than being the two sexes, pigeon and dove are in fact the names of two completely different and separate species.
Though they are in the same family, they are different, and there are both male and female pigeons and doves wherever you choose to look!
What’s the Purpose?
The amazing number of different types of pigeons and doves owes much to human intervention.
Creating new breeds to enhance specific characteristics has been happening for centuries.
- Some breeds exist to produce a certain look – exhibition birds
- Other breeds exist to produce a better game bird – the king pigeon, for example
However, most hybrids seem to be created for scientific and research purposes only.
Typically, the hybrid offspring of two different species are infertile and are unable to reproduce so new hybrids can only be produced by human intervention (artificial insemination).
Mother Nature has a much greater understanding of what is right and wrong so perhaps we should leave it up to her!