8

I just came across this quote by Jerome (I don't know in what book he originally wrote it):

Even the pigeons and doves don't take another partner if their companions pass away.

I don't take Jerome's statement to mean that it has literally never ever happened in history. I think a better interpretation would be that he's saying pigeons and doves very rarely take a mate after the death of their companion.

Is this true? I turn to Encyclopedia Britannica for more information here:

Pigeons are monogamous; i.e., they mate for life, and the survivor accepts a new mate only slowly.

So the question is, how slowly? Is it rare for a survivor to find a new mate, as Jerome claims?

To restate, the claim of Jerome's that I'm seeking evaluation of is composed of the following: Pigeons and doves mate for life and only very rarely seek a new partner while their current mate is alive. Moreover, they are no more likely to seek a new partner even after their mate has died.

What I'm not seeking evaluation of, is any discussion of "marriage" as a construct within the animal kingdom, or a rigidly literal reading of his statement that they "don't [ever!] take another partner."

In examining the claim, it may be useful to examine whether the answer varies depending on the species of pigeon and dove.

  • 1
    A possible source for an answer: "The Myth of Monogamy" where David Barash and his wife bust a few of the monogamy myths of the animal kingdom. – user7920 Feb 9 '15 at 20:26
  • 1
    @coleopterist I just checked (thanks for the lead). No mention of pigeons or doves in the index, and the pages that refer to "birds" (according to the index) don't address pigeons or doves. – Mr. Bultitude Feb 9 '15 at 20:29
  • 2
    While we address the premise (that pigeons/doves pair for life), I can't help but comment on the conclusion ("Remarriage is even rejected by birds"). That is cherry-picking. "Birds fall into five main groups: those in which the sexes (1) meet solely for copulation, (2) have a bond simply for a few days at the time of copulation, (3) form into pairs some time before copulation but separate shortly afterward (ducks), (4) remain paired for the raising of the brood or for the breeding season, or (5) pair for life." Source: David Lack, Pair-Formation in Birds, 1940. – Oddthinking Feb 10 '15 at 10:10
  • That's just the length of the social bond. I remember studying pairing behaviour of birds at uni. Examples of monogamy, polygyny and polyandry were all evident. – Oddthinking Feb 10 '15 at 10:12
  • 1
    Well, birds don't have the concept of marriage at all. – Andy Mar 11 '15 at 0:57
5

Their monogamy does seem to be a well-established claim but not that they never form another pair-bond:


The source you quote doesn't support St Jerome's claim. So you could probably drop "and never remarry" part of the question title.

Pigeons are monogamous; i.e., they mate for life, and the survivor accepts a new mate only slowly.

Encyclopedia Britannica


Many long-lived birds form long-term pair bonds, but they sometimes divorce.

Experiments in pair-bond stability in domestic pigeons (Columba livia domestica)

As you might expect (?) - it's complicated

Here, the probability of divorce in domestic pigeons (Columba livia) was tested experimentally, and separately for both male and female. Breeding success and pair bond duration of pairs was manipulated. After separation from the mate for up to 60 days the subject (female or male) was allowed to court to a new mate for 4 hours. Then the subject was given a choice between the old and the new mate presented simultaneously on either side of the experimental cage. A further possibility to choose between the two mates was given in later stage in the familiar aviary. Female subjects without breeding success showed little courtship towards the old male, especially when they had nest-cooed a lot to the new male during the four hours exposure. In the latter cases they chose the new male in the experimental choice situation. The preference for the old mate in the choice situation by females with breeding success was positively related to the duration of the previous pair bond. All females that had been paired for at least 200 days (N = 11), chose their old males. On the other hand, 86% of the females that had been paired for less than 152 days, chose the new male. Forty percent of the male subjects with breeding success preferred the new female in the experimental choice situation. This preference was especially shown by males that had performed frequent nest-cooing during the four hours exposure period. In the aviary, however, all males with or without breeding success reoccupied their nest at once and started nest-cooing and finally courted the female which was able to defend access to the nest against other females. This was always the male's former mate. Males preferred to occupy a nest over courting with any particular female.

  • 1
    Good find, but the study seems to say that they usually go back to their old mates if they have a choice between them and a different mate. But my question had more to do with the death of a mate. Can you try to address that a little more? – Mr. Bultitude Feb 9 '15 at 21:31
  • 3
    @Mr.Bultitude If they can change mates while the mate is alive, why they wouldn't change mates if the old mate is deceased? I don't think the dead/alive thing is relevant in the light of RedGrittyBrick's answer. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Feb 10 '15 at 9:48
  • @ThalesPereira The study seems to be saying that they can change mates while the mate is alive but it's rare. I want to know how much less rare (if any) it is when the mate has died. – Mr. Bultitude Feb 10 '15 at 19:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .