I Wonder if Pigeons Mourn Their Dead?

I had occasion to go to my local post office recently.  On the way I saw a group of pigeons noisily contesting pieces of bread that had been thrown out onto the side of the road.  I then realised that, a little removed, one pigeon was dead - but it seemed that none of the others had noticed, or that it meant nothing at all to them.

I thought I had better move the body elsewhere - maybe into a nearby hedge way; somewhere out of the roadside at least.  However, I decided to head to the post office first since it was close to closing time.  I returned less than ten minutes later and the noisy pigeons had gone - or so I thought.

I noticed that the dead pigeon was still lying near the curb and much of the bread had been left uneaten.  I assumed that the group of pigeons had flown off but then I noticed a telegraph wire above the scene and there they were, each of the pigeons who had been keenly battling for bread a few minutes earlier.  They were perched on the wire, all in the line, and totally silent.  They seemed to be looking down at the dead pigeon in some sort of quiet reflection.

Now, I know many people go potty at this sort of suggestion - but it looked for all the world to me that they were paying their respects in some fashion.


  1. There is more going on inside the minds of other animals than we pretend to know.

  2. http://boingboing.net/2008/08/13/crows-stealing-coins.html


    When Hens have been killed, the others have acted strangely, much quieter than normal. I buried Ms Hen underneath one of my favourite trees, with a flower beside her, Mr Rooster stayed for awhile, the others didnt get very close.

    Many Birds naturally hide illness, when they are together, they dont want to appear an easier target, or be shunned, apparently!

    Perhaps some show more emotion about a loved ones death that others, whether its individual to each Chicken, or more related to Species.

  3. It was important that you noticed this bird & returned to care for it in death. Maybe they were paying their respects. Nothing potty about thinking or saying that. That is what makes us vegan - we stop & think & care about these sorts of things

  4. When I was a teenager, and despite my protests, my father shot at crows eating the seeds out of his garden. He hit one of the crows and injured her (or him). All the crows stayed there for several hours and then left, but one stayed behind with the injured crow for almost two full days. She recovered and they flew off together.

    I can't say exactly what their behavior meant, but I would feel safe in assuming it meant they were feeling something similar to what any other animal (including humans) would feel about an injured group member. And I would think that if animals can recognize injury in another, they would also recognize death of another.

  5. Thanks for the comments and links everyone.

    In the late 1980s I lived for a short time on a smallholding in mid-Wales. The vegetarian people who owed the farm had some geese and one, Gandhi, was very aggressive and extremely protective of his territory. Then his partner died and he completely changed - he moped around and let you touch him which, previously, would have been a dangerous thing to do.

    Around that time there were a pair of swans in the area and the female was killed by colliding into power cables. The male stood near the site of her death for weeks - the best part of a month I'd say - and returned there after eating.

    So much for nonhuman animals being all about stimulus and response.

  6. You are brilliant Roger to notice this. Most people on a street would not notice, especially as a pigeon.

    I can only second what Jay says. All the chickens I've cared for form friendships, one or two friends. In the unfortunate and sad circumstances where a fox got some of the ladies, their friends personalities completely changed and they were no longer the same girls. I love them very much, and miss them, but I think my friends who are left probably feel the empty space even more.

    What strikes me is that most of the public have heard stories such as these, and even know examples of animals having emotional lives themselves, yet are able to distance themselves from the animals they eat.

  7. Yes,SamBee I have noticed the same thing with people choosing to eat the same species of animals that they have even friended at some point in their life. IT is as if only that one-that was friended- could have a personality. I guess these humans just shut down. Totally puzzling when there are plenty of non-meat eating options around.

  8. For years, I fed wild birds from a bird feeder in my backyard. The birds would eat through an entire feeders worth of food each and every day - for almost 10 years. Small birds ate from the feeder while pigeons scooped up the scraps that fell on the ground.

    Two months ago, a crow killed one of the pigeons, leaving feathers and blood smattered all over the ground. Though I have filled the bird feeders up since then, and though wind, rains and snow have done away with the remains of the pigeon, none of the birds have returned since that day.

  9. Many thanks for your observations, SamBee, Marguerite and Julia. It is certainly true that some distance (physical and moral) aids the aspiration to use and exploit others.

    In that sense, it is logical for slaughterhouses to be located away from the high street and for animal experimenters not to want to reveal what they do.

  10. I think it just stands to reason that at least some (or even most) animals have emotional lives; we do, and there's an evolutionary advantage to having emotions for us. Why assume nonhumans can't? Absent subjective communication with nonhumans, we'll likely never have proof, but proof in this case is largely beside the point.

    We can a) regard nonhumans as moral rights-holders with or without an emotional life, and b) such an emotional life is likely a safe assumption anyway.

  11. Although these posts are old, I must comment....I so loved reading all of these! And love all of you people!! My question was, do pigeons mourn their dead? My building manager recently "got rid of" a nest with 2 eggs in it. Sure enough when the Mother came back, she sat with her face in a corner for hours!! Broke my heart! It reminded me about a neighbor of mine who saw tons of crows sitting in a tree, they all had their heads down on their chests and completely silent for a long time. Then they all flew away. It is insane for us to think they don't feel. So wonderful to read all of your posts! Annie (10 miles N. of the Golden Gate)