Do Pigeons Have Feelings?

There is some scientific evidence as well as anecdotal and evidential-based assumptions that pigeons do have feelings.

Pigeons are monogamous birds who show affection to their partners and will also show affection to human handlers that they are comfortable with.

Animal Instinct

Many pet owners will swear blind that their animals can understand them and demonstrate a whole range of emotions.

You hear this mainly from cat and dog owners, but emotional responses have been noted in all kinds of species.

The question is: are these reactions just instinctive, based on certain stimuli or are they real feelings as we humans know them?

Recently, someone posted a short news piece about a gorilla.

This gorilla was taken into captivity as a baby orphan.

It was chosen to participate in animal cognition experiments and was taught sign language.

One of its early keepers retired, but came back to visit the gorilla after many years.

Observers noted the obvious signs of recognition and happiness displayed by the gorilla.

At the end of the visit, without any prompting, the gorilla signed to its old keeper, ‘I love you.’

This is a sure sign of emotional feeling, but then again, primates such as gorillas and chimpanzees share over 90% of the same DNA as us.

So, what about pigeons?


Probably the greatest guide to feelings in both humans and animals are their facial expressions.

red eyed pigeon

We understand what people are feeling just by looking at the expressions on their faces.

It can be the same with animals too.

Although most animals have a limited facial expression range and so their feelings have to be judged or guessed at by their behavior too.

Pigeons are one of those species that have no facial expressions with which to judge their feelings. 

Behaviour, not expression would be the only way to measure emotion.

Bird Brained

We’ve all heard the expression.

It means stupidity and the general public view pigeons that way.

All they see are mindless creatures who constantly eat and defecate wherever they please.

are pigeons smart?

On the other hand, pigeon fanciers, racing enthusiasts and scientists will tell you differently.

Pigeons are highly intelligent animals.

They can learn and be trained.

They have been placed in the top six of the animal kingdom species in terms of intelligence.

Pigeons have passed the ‘mirror test’, which means that they can recognize themselves.

This self-recognition means that they are self-aware, conscious of their own existence.

This indicates thought.

Thought equals feelings.

Unfortunately, this is difficult to prove.


The greatest displays of emotion that you will see in pigeons is either during mating or when they are desperately fleeing a predator.

When escaping danger they are sure to feel fear.

This is a primeval survival emotion.

Mating, on the other hand, is different.

Although they are faithful and mate for life, pigeons don’t feel emotional love.

pigeons mating

Like many other species, pigeons have elaborate mating rituals.

This wooing is a biological imperative, not a choice.

It is an instinctive drive for the reproduction and survival of the species.

Unlike human males who become chock full of testosterone and are driven by pure desire, the criteria for mating among pigeons and other animals is different, so their capacity for feeling can’t be measured by that.

Pigeons Showing Affection

It has been noted among pigeon owners that keep lone pigeons as pets that female pigeons can form an attachment to male owners.

They can become coquettish and display affection towards their owners. 

The explanation for this is said to be because in the absence of male pigeons to mate with, the female’s own biological imperatives force them to seek the nearest alternative or make them mistake humans for pigeons.

Pigeons Displaying Hate

Love and hate are basic emotions that every species, including our own, are subject to.

In animals, it is doubtful that they truly suffer from hate.

pigeon fleeing from predators

What they have is instinctual fear.

Most species have natural enemies, other species that are prey on them. Instead of hate, they may attack things that may appear threatening out of fear.

A Sense Of Duty

One odd thing that has been noted and recognised in pigeons is their valour and determination.

In many past ages, carrier pigeons have been used to deliver messages.

During the two World Wars carriers pigeons were used by all the armed forces.

Many of these pigeons were actually awarded medals for their bravery and service.

carrier pigeon flying out of trap door

So, that begs the question: were they consciously brave and had notions of duty? 

We know that homing pigeons have an instinctive urge to return home to their lofts, but flying through bombardments and sniper fire is extreme.

Many of these birds were wounded, but carried on in service when they had recovered.

You would think that most animals would flee the sounds and dangers of battle, never to return, but the pigeons didn’t.

So, did these pigeons ‘feel’ a sense of duty and loyalty?

Ask a Pigeon

Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine whether or not pigeons have feelings.

You can’t ask them, as they can’t talk.

Science hasn’t come up with a fool proof way of either proving or refuting the notion either.

It’s not a question that really occupies the minds of many people anyway.

Pigeon owners probably have their own definite ideas on the subject.


Dan has been fascinated with pigeons since his youth when he used to feed them breadcrumbs at the local park. With a background in SEO Dan noticed a few years ago that there were very few websites around dedicated to his favorite bird so he set out to change that by starting Pigeonpedia.

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