Mangile's Pigeon Pages

American Pigeon Journal
February 1985, pages 21 & 22.
Incest: Is It Natural?

by Robert J. Mangile

Presently, there  is  a public campaign underway in our society to educate the public on the frequency of unreported cases of child molestation.  Many cases involve close relatives and is considered incest.  Sexual experiences between people too closely related to marry legal, is considered incestuous.

Anyone involved in the raising and breeding of animals, e.g., pigeon fanciers, have no qualms about breeding close relatives together.  Many fanciers boast of strict line-breeding, which is a continuous progression of what would be considered incestuous activity in humans.

Consider what goes on in our pigeon lofts?  Pairings among close relatives frequently occur in pigeon colonies unless an effort is made to prevent it.  Within small flocks, so-called "line-breeding" occurs naturally.  Fanciers need not boast too loudly about their efforts to induce such breeding programs, it happens regardless of their efforts in many instances.  In fact, cross-breeding is sometimes more difficult, if one considers crosses of extremely different breeds.  And, in a species cross, such as a pigeon and a ring-necked dove, the complications are compounded.  Recent studies indicate that even in the wild state, animals accept their own relatives more readily than non-relatives even if they were raised in exile.

After removing a five-week old squeaker and its mother from a mixed loft situation last September, the cock of that mating bonded with the remaining squeaker.  Within a week or so, he began driving his daughter to nest (I assume it was a young female).  My thoughts were that the squeaker had the security of a nestbox defended by its sire.

Recently, a similar case occurred in an individual breeding cage.  A silky Fantail cock imposed his affections on his three-week old offspring - after I removed the hen and one of the squabs.  It was a common sight to see them in the corner of the coop, wooing and cooing at length.  I thought perhaps he missed his mate!?  But, such anthropomorphic thinking can't explain things satisfactorily, nor will it eliminate such behavior.  Most pigeon fancier likely have witnessed similar circumstances among their birds.

Recalling past observations, one unique case comes to mind that involved two grizzle-ash-red Racing Homer cocks.  At about the time they reached sexual maturity I removed their parents from the loft.  Both young cocks tried to occupy the nestbox where they were raised.  They evicted others and fought each other to a standstill, and gradually they became a bonded pair.  They copulated, built nests, and drove each other to nest in an  unstructured fashion.  They incubated foster eggs with loving care.  And, through it all they fought continuously.  A strange relationship, to say the least!  They were eventually separated, mated to hens and raised squabs.  One was more easily adapted to the more normal role and one was indifferent!

Of course, pigeons cannot legally marry; therefore such closely related matings are not considered incestuous.  But regardless of our legalities, mating occurs among close relatives in the animal world.  What human thoughts could justify such behavior?  Is it natural?  Is natural - good?  If it isn't good, why do fanciers deliberately breed close relatives together?  Perhaps psychologists can gain new insights into incestuous behavior in humans if they studied the behavior of pigeons.

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