Releasing Doves at Ceremonies: Why You Shouldn’t Do It
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Michele Wellard, Palomacy: Pigeon and Dove Adoptions
September 2019

Many “doves,” even if they are white homing pigeons, are injured, killed, or starve to death when released. The ones who are not homing pigeons, helpless white Ringneck doves and King pigeons with no ability to home, have it even worse. They are “set free” with no ability to return and no idea how to fend for themselves.

 

rescued dove

Much has been written on the subject of white “doves” released for weddings, funerals and ceremonies and why it is not a good idea. I hope that this information is starting to reach the wedding and funeral-planning public. Many “doves”, even if they are white homing pigeons, are injured, killed, or starve to death when released. The ones who are not homing pigeons, helpless white Ringneck doves and King pigeons with no ability to home, have it even worse. They are “set free” with no ability to return and no idea how to fend for themselves; wandering around, bewildered and scared, until some terrible fate occurs. I have seen for many years what happens to these birds, and I am writing this post to explain the conditions they are found in when lucky enough to be brought to a pigeon-friendly wildlife rehabilitator.

I am a wildlife rehabilitator with over 10 years experience. My team (now at Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center – a pigeon-friendly center!) treats three to four thousand animals every year. Among these are several dozen “dove release” survivors. The calls for help are usually the same. Some caring member of the public will spot what they call a “white dove” hanging around somewhere – their home, a shopping center, etc. – looking lost and seemingly unable to or uninterested in flying away. Many times, these members of the public are kind enough to follow instructions on how to catch the bird and bring it to my center for care.

For many of these birds, the “beautiful” release is their first time flying out in the wild, outside of captivity. Having not been raised in the wild, they are especially vulnerable when flying around free. And that leads to the number one problem I see presented in dove release birds that I receive: starvation, dehydration and emaciation. Many people report that they think the bird has a broken wing because it will not fly but many times, the wings are fine. The bird cannot fly because physically it is just too weak. Sometimes, the birds are so far gone that their organs have started to shut down and there is nothing we can do to save them. Other times, with a rehydration protocol, we can rehydrate them and start to add calories, usually by tube feeding, until the bird regains strength enough to eat on their own.

Beyond starvation, most of the dove release birds are suffering from a catalogue of medical problems. They have parasitic infections like trichomoniasis, worms and coccidia We know that stress impacts the immune system negatively, lowering resistance to disease, and these birds are under extreme stress having just been tossed out into a dangerous landscape. Sometimes we can treat these infections with medication and supportive care, but some birds are just too far gone by the time they are found. Last month, I treated a huge, beautiful white pigeon (who was clearly from a release) for a raging and horrific trichomoniasis infection and emaciation. Trichomoniasis is a protozoan infection that causes internal symptoms, but also can cause a cheesy discharge in the throat that hardens and expands, eventually blocking the throat and mouth. This poor bird had almost his entire esophagus blocked, and the hardened infectious material reached up to his brain, distorting the entire shape of his head. He was suffering greatly, emaciated and at death’s door so I gently euthanized him, at least able to release him from pain.

We also see a lot of broken bones with wedding release doves, too. A few years ago I received an emaciated bird that had a broken leg AND a broken wing. I was so horrified by the condition he was in that I made a video, using his body, to show that far from being a sweet and peaceful ritual, wedding and funeral dove releases are not so sweet and peaceful for the affected birds. And yet – this bird was luckier than some. Upon admitting him, I immediately gave the bird pain relief and sedation. Although I ultimately had to euthanize the bird, I consider him luckier than the ones who hide, in agony, and take days to die, alone.

But, in doing this work, I am able to save some of their lives. Wings can sometimes be splinted and healed. Less severe infections can be treated. We have re-homed many of these birds as companion pets. Others we are able to “hire” as workers at our center. One bird who had her wings spray painted pink (“flying art” or a gender reveal party?) recently helped successfully raise two orphaned wild pigeons as a foster mom. This helps the babies stay wild, being less likely to imprint on or become habituated to their human caregivers. I released those two youngsters as confident young adults and the foster mom will now be introduced to her next brood, a group of 4 nestling pigeons, brought in when a church steeple was knocked down. Hopefully she can teach them some pigeon manners.

Some foster parent pigeons will even produce crop milk after being stimulated by the babies’ begging cries, and feed the babies naturally. This makes for healthier wild pigeons, and I it gives the foster mom a natural experience she may have missed out on by being born captive.

If you find one of these birds in need of help, please try to capture it and find a “pigeon friendly” wildlife rehabilitator or rescue. If the bird is sick or hurt, some veterinarians will see them, since they are not wildlife. If they are very weak, you may be able to just pick them up with your hands, but often the bird will walk right into a cat crate for nothing more than a dish of water and a place to hide.


Michele Wellard is a Pennsylvania state licensed wildlife rehabilitator with 11 years experience. She is Assistant director at Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center, a pigeon-friendly wildlife rehab clinic. In addition to wild animals and pigeons, Michele has a special interest in rescuing and advocating for companion parrots. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and 4 rescue parrots - www.phillywildlife.org


Return to Animal Rights Articles