Do pigeons feel lonely?

Pigeons are a common sight in cities around the world. These birds tend to gather in large flocks, filling the air and covering the ground as they search for food. But despite their numbers, some wonder if pigeons actually feel lonely.

Quick Answers

Do pigeons feel lonely? The short answer is that pigeons likely do not experience loneliness in the same complex way that humans do. However, pigeons are social animals that may exhibit signs of distress when isolated from their flock for too long.

Can pigeons feel emotions? Pigeons lack the advanced emotional processing of humans but do have basic emotional capabilities. They can feel fear, stress, and attachment to other birds.

Do pigeons need companionship? Yes, pigeons are highly social and do best when housed with other pigeons they can interact with. Keeping a single pigeon alone can cause distress.

Pigeon Biology and Behavior

To understand if pigeons feel loneliness, it helps to first look at their biology and behavior. Pigeons are highly social birds that naturally live and move in large flocks. A flock provides safety, easier food finding, and social stimulation. Pigeons are also monogamous birds that mate for life. The male and female pigeon work together to build a nest, incubate eggs, and care for their squabs (babies).

On a neurological level, pigeons have a smaller brain relative to body size compared to other birds. Their brains lack a well-developed neocortex, which in humans plays a key role in higher-order thinking and emotions. However, pigeons still exhibit intelligent behaviors and some emotional capability.

Research shows pigeons can:

  • Recognize individual human faces
  • Learn abstract concepts and rules
  • Exhibit self-recognition in a mirror
  • Communicate using calls and body language
  • Form social and mate bonds
  • Experience fear and stress

So while not as emotionally complex as humans, pigeons do have an emotional life. This suggests that in some basic way, pigeons may be able to experience loneliness.

Signs of Distress When Isolated

Scientists have studied the effects of isolation on pigeons. In one study, pigeons were placed in individual cages with no visual or auditory contact with other birds. Within a few weeks, many of these separated pigeons began exhibiting signs of distress and agitation. Some specific signs included:

  • Increased pacing and repetitive head movements
  • Decline in feather condition due to over-preening
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased aggressive behavior

These behaviors suggest that the isolated pigeons were distressed by the lack of social interaction and flock contact. Once they were reunited with other pigeons, the symptoms went away.

Human Analogies

While pigeons likely don’t feel loneliness in the same complex way humans do, some analogies can be drawn. For humans, loneliness involves a sad longing for more social connection and a sense of emptiness. We miss interacting and engaging with others we are attached to or relate to.

Similarly, an isolated pigeon separated from its flock may long for social interaction, even if not consciously. The sights and sounds of fellow flock members provide stimulation. Their presence provides comfort and security. A lone pigeon lacks this flock contact and may feel that something is missing.

A lonely pigeon may even act out in frustration or attention-seeking behaviors, similar to a bored, lonely child. Just as a human’s mental health can deteriorate with extreme isolation, a pigeon also shows signs of declining wellbeing when socially isolated for too long.

Causes of Pigeon Loneliness

There are some scenarios that can lead to pigeon loneliness or distress from lack of flock contact:

  • Captivity – Pigeons kept as individual pets often exhibit signs of agitation and loneliness. Housing pigeons alone deprives them of needed social interaction.
  • Injury – A pigeon unable to keep up with its flock due to injury may feel separation distress.
  • Death of mate – Pigeons mate for life. The death of a mate can leave the remaining bird feeling lonely without its partner.
  • New flock – A pigeon adjusted to one flock moved to a new flock may have trouble integrating and feel lonely.
  • Breeding separation – Separating mated pairs during breeding season to prevent eggs can cause loneliness in bonded pairs.

In the wild, pigeons are rarely isolated from the flock for long periods. Cities provide large flocks but also expose pigeons to scenarios like injury that can temporarily isolate them from the group.

Keeping Pet Pigeons Socially Happy

For those keeping domesticated pigeons as pets, it is important to house them in pairs or small flocks, not alone. Some tips for keeping pet pigeons happy include:

  • House at least two pigeons together
  • Provide a roomy aviary or coop for flying and moving
  • Give them toys, baths, perches and hideaways to enrich their environment
  • Let them forage for some of their food
  • Give them outdoor time in a portable aviary when possible
  • Get opposite sex pairs so they can experience natural bonding/breeding behaviors

With at least one other flockmate and an enriched habitat, pet pigeons can thrive without the stresses of loneliness. They will exhibit natural social behaviors like preening, nesting, and flying together.


In summary, most experts agree that pigeons do not feel loneliness to the extent that humans do. Their brains are simply not wired for the same range of consciousness and emotion. However, pigeons are social creatures wired to live in flocks, and they can exhibit signs of distress when that social stimulation is missing. While they may not pine for lost relationships per se, an isolated pigeon separated from its flock for too long will likely feel that something is “missing” from its life and become agitated without the security of a flock.

So while pigeons may not weep with loneliness, they can still feel some of the negative impacts of prolonged isolation from their social group. Keeping pigeons in pairs or flocks, interacting with toys and enrichment activities, and avoiding long-term separation from other birds can help pigeons avoid the experience of “loneliness” as much as possible. Their social, flocking nature means pet pigeons kept singly have compromised welfare and signs of chronic stress. Ensuring pet pigeons have a flockmate and stimuli is key to their happiness and reducing any loneliness they may feel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do pigeons get sad when their mate dies?

Pigeons form strong pair bonds with their mates. When a pigeon’s mate dies, they may initially seem distressed, remain near the body, and not want to leave it. However, pigeons do not appear to go through prolonged mourning. Within a few days, the remaining bird will be looking for a new mate.

Do pigeons like to be pet?

Pet and domesticated pigeons can become very tame and seem to enjoy human interaction and being handled by their owner. Wild pigeons avoid being touched by humans. But both wild and domestic pigeons benefit most from social interaction with other pigeons over human affection.

Should you keep one pigeon or two?

Keeping a single pigeon alone in a cage causes stress to the bird and should be avoided. Pigeons are highly social and two pigeons make an ideal pairing. For a flock, most recommend keeping an even number between 4-10 pigeons to reduce fighting over mates.

How smart are pigeons?

Pigeons are capable of surprisingly advanced cognitive abilities. They can learn complex patterns and concepts, identify objects in images, and remember human faces. Their intelligence has been compared to dolphins and primates. However, their small brain size limits higher emotional processing.

Do pigeons remember people?

Research shows pigeons have excellent recall ability and can remember specific human faces even decades later. They also form attachments and show preference for humans who feed them regularly, suggesting they remember these specific people.

Impact of Flock Size on Pigeon Wellbeing

Scientific research has analyzed how different flock sizes impact the behavior and wellbeing of pigeons. Key findings show:

Flock Size Impact on Pigeons
One pigeon isolated Significant increase in repetitive behaviors indicating chronic stress. Impaired welfare.
Paired pigeons Normal behavior, occasional aggressive squabbles. Recommended minimum for pet pigeons.
Small flock of 4-6 pigeons Natural social behaviors like mating, rearing young. Occasional fights over mates and nest sites.
Large flock of 12+ pigeons Sexual behavior reduced, more energy spent on foraging and predator watch. Dominance hierarchy forms.

The table highlights how pigeons are healthiest and happiest when housed with at least one other pigeon. Larger flocks allow normal social colony structure but require more space and resources to minimize aggressive competition.

How Cities Can Promote Pigeon Wellbeing

Even city pigeons that live freely exhibit signs of stress and behavioral issues linked to urban pressures like:

  • Limited safe nesting sites
  • Competition for food
  • Predation risk from dogs/predators
  • Vehicle collisions

Cities aiming to reduce pigeon overpopulation while promoting flock wellbeing could consider policies like:

  • Providing roosting boxes and niches on buildings for nesting
  • Establishing designated food sources away from high traffic areas
  • Educating the public to stop feeding pigeons in busy locations
  • Adding physical deterrents on buildings to prevent roosting in unsafe areas
  • Protecting pigeons from mammal predators like installing metal guards on weep holes where rats enter buildings

Such measures allow pigeon flocks to thrive while reducing negative impacts on infrastructure and public spaces. Keeping pigeons healthy and reducing sources of stress promotes natural flock behaviors and minimizes the problematic behaviors that frustrated cities try to curb.

Final Thoughts

The highly social nature of pigeons means that prolonged isolation causes stress, even if they do not feel lonely in complex ways like humans. Ensuring pigeons have adequate social interaction and enrichment is important for their welfare in captivity or urban environments.

While pigeons may never write poems about loneliness, anyone who has seen an isolated, distressed bird pacing and cooing for absent flockmates understands the primary importance of a flock to a pigeon. These social bonds are key to their natural behavior and ability to thrive. So when it comes to pigeon happiness, perhaps the solution is as simple as making sure they have friends.

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