Dove Releases: Are They Cruel? Is It Ethical?

It’s something that we have all seen before, whether in person, on the television, in the movies, or as part of a story on the written page.

release doves

For centuries, the ceremonial releasing of doves (white doves in particular) has been a practice that millions of people all around the world have participated in.

From couples at weddings releasing birds at the moment of ‘I do’ to the Pope in Rome letting one fly away as a symbol of faith and peace to a part of a funeral for a lost loved one, dove releases are an almost everyday part of life at this point.

However release doves are routinely subjected to attacks from predators on their way home, they also often lack the key survival skills necessary to safely make it home.

Dove Releases therefore cannot be justified ethically and morally.

What is a dove release?

Technically speaking, a dove release is a moment in any kind of organized celebration or memorial in which a bird trainer will release a number of doves into the sky to emphasize a specific moment in the proceedings.

dove releases are not ethical

Just some of the many different occasions that might be associated with a dove release include:

  • Weddings
  • Birthday parties
  • Anniversaries
  • Christenings
  • Graduation Ceremonies
  • Funerals
  • Memorial services
  • Opening ceremonies of sporting events

The number of doves can be anything from a single bird, a small number of 5 or 10 to dozens, perhaps even hundreds depending on the scale of the release.

Once the spectacle has been completed and the guests have been suitably wowed by the sight of the release, the intention is that the doves will fly off to make their journey back to their home base as they have been trained to do.

dove release

On a small scale and within an appropriate distance to the home base of the birds, a dove release is potentially something that might be okay to perform under the hands of expert guidance, but the rapidly emerging and increasing problem that is starting to be recognized is that some people are not adhering to the sensitive and essential rules that help to keep the birds safe.

The Problems With Dove Releases:

Here are some of the most common consequences that can occur when a dove release is not performed in an ideal or appropriate environment, as well as a few reasons why ‘DIY’ bird releases are incredibly likely to fail and cause untold stress and damage to the doves in question.

1. Some Birds Will Not Survive

Whilst most release doves used in a release will be able to find their way home safely as they have been trained, the truth is that there is a high risk of at least a percentage of the flock not making it back in one piece, or at all.

doves are poorly equipped to survive

If you are setting free a group of birds far away from where they were raised, and especially in an urban environment, the chances are that they will come into difficulty when trying to make their way back.

It might make for a pretty experience and nice pictures at the moment of release, but what you don’t see after the event is birds struggling to adjust to the cityscape around them and becoming distressed.

2. They Will Be Subject to Attacks

In urban areas, there are always going to be larger, more aggressive, more ‘streetwise’ birds around the corner, and this can be a great risk to any domesticated dove that is released in their vicinity.

On the very worst occasions, people have released birds at an event only to see them attacked by birds like crows and seagulls and the like once they are in open space.

A domesticated dove isn’t going to be able to stand a chance against natural predators of pigeons, and their biological design does not give them many (or any) real weapons with which to defend themselves.

3. DIY Dove Releases Frequently Lead To Mistakes

Whilst we don’t recommend participating in a dove release ceremony at all, what we will say is that if you have your heart absolutely set on it, you absolutely must enlist a professional to help with the job.

You would be amazed at the amount of people who think that they can purchase a number of birds and release them out into the wild with no consequences at all.

dove releases are common at weddings

A common mistake is that they use the wrong kinds of birds. 

Breeds like Ringneck doves and King pigeons might look like the perfect breeds for a release ceremony, but in fact they do not possess the right kinds of homing skills to get to safety afterward.

The bottom line is that if you release the wrong kinds of birds into the wild, they will not be able to fend for themselves and, unfortunately, they will likely all die in an unfamiliar environment.

 4. They Lack Key Survival Skills

The crux of the matter is the fact that the kinds of birds that people want to ‘release’ don’t have the relevant skills in order to be able to survive such an experience.

We are so used to seeing all different kinds of birds up the trees and in the skies around us that we forget that not all birds have evolved in the same ways.

Homing birds in particular will be more comfortable in a controlled, domesticated environment than out in the wild having to fend for themselves.

They will not be predator savvy, they will not know where to get the appropriate feed, essentially they will not be able to look after themselves.

Is it ethically and morally appropriate to release doves?

It is never a good idea to perform a dove release.

The world is becoming more and more aware and sensitive to the use of animals for entertainment purposes, and dove releases are just another type of event in a long list of events that can no longer be justified ethically and morally.

You wouldn’t want to go to a circus where there are attractive-looking, exciting animals on display, but with the knowledge that these animals had a significant chance of being harmed, lost or killed directly after the show.

This is the harsh truth about dove releases.

On the surface of things they come across as a harmless, peaceful, pretty ceremonial event, but the reality of the situation for the birds themselves is much bleaker.

Unfortunately, we all know that not every person in the world has the same moral compass and sensitivities when it comes to the care and protection of animals.

There are always going to be individuals and groups who want to perform a dove release regardless of the negative impacts it can have on the birds, but if our article can persuade even a handful of people who were planning to do so to change their minds, then we think it is worth it.

We have the feeling that just like performing animals in circuses and dancing monkeys in the streets, dove releases will one day be a thing of the past that future societies look back on and regard as something that should never have been practiced in such large numbers in so many places all over the world.

At the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, there was a dove release during the opening ceremony however, it involved thousands of paper doves.

It was a beautiful spectacle and was far more successful than the ill-fated doves at the 1988 Olympics.


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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