Wedding Doves

This month I’ve seen a few reports on PABIRDS of lone white doves at backyard bird feeders.  The writer usually asks, “Where did this bird come from?”

I have a theory.

June is a popular month for weddings and the weather allows for a beautiful tradition — a white dove release.  At the end of the ceremony the bride and groom each hold and release a dove or a whole flock is released from small cages draped in white.

Symbolizing love and peace the doves circle up together and fly away, seemingly into the blue.

In fact they fly home.

These romantic birds come from a dove release service.  They are actually white homing pigeons and the dove keeper is counting on their flocking and homing instincts to bring them back to the dovecote so they can be rented again.

They circle up together because they want to be with their friends (flock) and they want to go home.  Miraculously in the few seconds it takes them to circle the wedding grounds they figure out where they are and where to go — and then they fly home.

Normally each bird would reach home, even if flying alone, but sometimes one gets confused along the way.  Eventually he stops and finds a flock of compatriots — pigeons.  He isn’t at home but that’s OK.  He’s with a flock.

So when you find a random white dove in an odd place in June, it’s probably a confused bird for hire.

(Sorry to burst your bubble about wedding doves.  Yes, they are white pigeons.)

(photo from

p.s. In the early 2000’s during the heyday of Cathedral of Learning peregrines Dorothy and E2, a Heinz Chapel docent used to tell prospective brides that a release of doves at the Chapel could end tragically. In those days the peregrines regularly raised 4-5 chicks whose appetites were at their maximum in June. A flock of wedding doves circling up next to the Cathedral of Learning was a tempting target for the peregrines.

10 thoughts on “Wedding Doves

  1. I like your theory, Kate, and it certainly makes sense!!
    At one church (First United Methodist) in Leechburg a man comes to the church at either a special service regarding Pentecost or for one of the children’s vacation bible study days, walks around and lets a few children or teenagers touch/pet the dove, then plays a tape and releases the doves. It is lovely/serene to watch them circle slowly then head out.
    Thanks for this interesting article/post : ) as always you touch on such a fine variety of nature related occurences or subjects.

  2. I actually saw a story on WTAE news last year about a wayward White Dove that was hanging around a yard in Westmoreland county (I think). The property owners were able to get in touch with the owner and who came and collected the bird.

    Also, I’ve often wonderred if people would risk releasing Doves at Heinz chapel as you would think there’d be a chance one of them might get picked off by a hungry Peregrine.

  3. Do you know there were originally white Pigeons in the wild or if they had to be bred them in captivity to get all-white pigeons?

    1. Solid colors (all one color without any pattern) are not normal on the original wild rock pigeons so I’m sure they had to be bred to get solid white.

  4. I used to volunteer with a wildlife rescuer here in Vermont. We had a couple of non releasable white doves that were found loose, but were non-native and would have died during the winter. The reputable types use white pigeons that are hardy for the climate where they are being released, but the less reputable will actually use doves, even if they can’t survive. Sigh… Unfortunately, the people holding the affairs don’t know to ask the right questions

  5. I attended a funeral service at Greenwood Cemetery in Lower Burrell, PA about three years ago. A “dove” release was done while the Josh Grobin song “You Raise Me Up” played. As the doves were circling around one of the last ones was a straggler and out of a high pine tree a hawk comes zooming down and hits the dove, blood and feathers flying through the air and it lands on a grave. I think we all gasped and were speechless. My husband talked to the dove aka pigeon handler and he said it happens often. I pray I never attend another funeral with a dove/pigeon release. Can you imagine that happening at a wedding?!? OMG!

  6. I train my white doves for a good period before i use them for any services, i make sure that they can make it home to their lofts, i have had pigeons since i was eleven & feel terrible when one does not make it back home ;(

  7. My husband passed away 2 wks. ago & a wk. before he asked me what kind of bird was pecking on the window for 2 wks. I said, “I don’t know” & he looked & said it’s a Dove. It pecked for 2 wks. before & then after my husband passed, he has came back just one time.
    I feel like this is a sign from God, because we were married 50 yrs. I’ve been so heart broken & crying every day. I read about this maybe on another page, but had to write it. Irma
    P.S. Where I learn this was from my Mother, my brother died at 4 yrs. old & she told me the dove did this then.

  8. Thanks for the interesting article about wedding doves. I didn’t know that many of these could come from a dove release and fly back to the dovecote. I’m kind of interested to learn how this could be done or how far the doves could typically fly.

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