Yes, pigeons do produce milk, it is called ‘crop milk’.
Pigeons don’t have mammary glands like other animals, so crop milk isn’t the same as mammalian milk (which pigeons shouldn’t drink as they are lactose intolerant).
This crop milk plays a significant role in the development and health of the squabs or squeakers, as they are known.
What is Crop Milk?
Crop milk is a secretion made from the food that the parent birds eat. Both male and female produce this and both are involved in the feeding of the new-born pigeon chicks.
The fledglings obtain the milk by inserting their beaks into a parent’s beak, which stimulates the production and release of the crop milk. This is regurgitated straight into their throats.
The crop milk is actually produced and stored in a pouch in the adult birds’ throats.
The only other birds besides pigeons and doves that produce a crop milk are flamingos and Emperor Penguins.
The squabs are fed crop milk for a few days or even up to a week after they have hatched.
At that age they are unable to digest solid food.
After a few days of just pure crop milk, the parents start to introduce bits of solid food mixed in with it.
The crop milk itself has the consistency of cottage cheese.
A few days before the female’s eggs are ready to be laid, both parent birds stop eating to stimulate the production of the crop milk.
This production is triggered by a hormonal change within both birds.
Crop Milk Nutrition
Crop milk is very important for the squabs as it contains high levels of both proteins and fats.
It actually has higher levels than the milk produced by cows or women.
Along with the fats and proteins found in crop milk are minerals, antioxidants, bacteria, and antibodies.
It is also known that crop milk contains immune system-enhancing properties too.
Altogether, the richness of crop milk ensures healthy offspring that grow up to be strong adult pigeons.
Importance Of Crop Milk
Research has shown that the parent birds produce enough crop milk to feed two hatchlings.
That is why two eggs are the norm. It is rare for a female to lay three eggs.
If one of the squabs dies for any reason, the remaining one will receive all the crop milk and it develops to become bigger, stronger and healthier than it would do by sharing with a sibling.
It is doubtful that any young pigeon would be able to survive without the help of crop milk.