Doves are often included in weddings, either literally or artistically, because they symbolize lifetime love. While many dove species are lifelong mates, some mate only for a breeding season. However, doves are monogamous while they are together.
The terms dove and pigeon are used interchangeably, but dove usually refers to a smaller bird, according to the American Dove Association. Worldwide, there are approximately 300 dove species. These species rarely, if ever, interbreed in the wild, although they can be mated in captivity. The majority of dove species do mate for life, although if a mate dies, the survivor finds another partner. In the wild, doves rarely live longer than five years, but domestic doves can live 20 years or more.
References to lovers "billing and cooing" actually refers to dove behavior. Every dove species makes its own distinct cooing sound. Doves reach sexual maturity between the ages of 6 and 8 months. If you're raising doves, you might need your veterinarian to determine a bird's sex, or you can send feather samples to a laboratory for DNA testing. Male doves perform courtship rituals for their prospective mates, including special flight patterns, bowing, tail-fanning and neck-puffing.
Raising a Family
Male doves bring nest materials to their mate, who does the bulk of the nest construction. Depending on the species, the hen lays one or two eggs per clutch. Wild doves often abandon nests -- and babies -- if there's any sort of disturbance. Doves sit on their eggs for two weeks, with males take up some of the incubation work. Two to three weeks after hatching, the fledglings leave the nest. Many dove pairs raise two families annually.
Other Avian Mates for Life
Doves aren't the only avian species who spend their lives with one partner. Although not favored as wedding symbols, black vultures mate for life. So do the endangered California condor, the very tall whooping crane and the Laysan albatross, according to Audubon magazine. Other species that stick together until one dies include the bald eagle, mute swan, Atlantic puffin and scarlet macaw. When one partner dies, how long the other waits until "remarrying" can vary by species and sex. Female mute swans find new mates relatively quickly, while males wait until the following autumn. Laysan albtratrosses mourn their mate for at least a year before finding another partner.
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